The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) has issued a stern warning to filling station owners and operators that their businesses risk closure if they do not comply with minimum standards and regulations.
MERA chief executive officer, Dr Collins Magalasi, issued the warning in an interview on the sidelines of the fuel retailers' sensitisation workshop in Lilongwe on Wednesday.
Magalasi said the authority has observed that a huge number of retailers or filling stations are having challenges to comply with minimum standards and regulations for operating the stations.
"As you will recall that it was in 2017 September 15th that MERA released new standards and minimum requirements for filling stations. And we have been looking at the market and we felt that it is important that we bring all the stakeholders that are running filling stations so that we take them through what is required and hear their side of the story on why some of them are still having challenges to comply," he said.
Magalasi stressed that as a regulator, it is their duty is to make sure that players in the sector are doing their business in full compliance with the law.
"We have the mandate to make sure that the consumers are having the value for their money and at the same time to make sure that business of selling fuel continues in this country. And we can only do that when we are enforcing laws.
"So, what we have said is to remind them that if there is a service station that is not meeting the standards, then it is not worthy operating in the business. And we have said once we have made the sensitisation, we expect all the filling stations to follow the rules of the game. If they don't, then they are in the wrong business," he added.
According to the MERA chief, the operators and retailers are defying the law in different ways.
He said some do not comply in terms of the structures that they have while others do not meet the standard practices through the quality of the fuel they have.
"There are others that are noncompliant because of the measurements of the tanks that they have. So, they vary. What I would say is that, as a regulator, we have a report of each and every filling station. And as I speak now, there are 261 filling stations that we have visited [across the country] and [at] each filling station, we have identified the shortfalls that they do have.
"There have been quite a number of filling stations that have not met the minimum standards and these are the ones that we have closed. You will agree with me that there have been filling stations that have been closed and when they have worked on those shortfalls, we have reopened. And we will continue this process," Magalasi said.
He said in the past three months, the authority has closed close to 25 filling stations on top of what they have been doing in their routine inspections.
"As a regulator, we have the responsibility on two lines. We regulate in order to make sure that the consumer is not duped. In this case, we would want a consumer to pay for the value of the product that they are getting, which specifically you would say we don't want inefficient filling stations that are making losses and those are passed onto the consumer.
"We make sure that the businesses are doing what is right so that we don't charge the price that much so that that consumer finally gets what they are supposed to. As you will know that fuel prices here are regulated by MERA, so, as we are deciding on the cost of one litre of petrol, diesel or any other fuel, we make sure that filling stations are offering what is worth that particular amount of money that the consumers will gonna pay," said Magalasi.
The workshop drew participants from fuel industry stakeholders from the Central Region.