Wednesday, June 25, 2008


A MAD rush for dear fuel
Rumours on fuel trigger panic in towns across Sabah


Rumours that petrol kiosks will be closed for 4 days and that fuel prices will go up by another RM1 effective today caused panic among thousands of motorists who rushed and thronged stations in most parts of the State to fill up their tanks, yesterday. Many streets in Kota Kinabalu City and other towns in the State which lead to petrol stations were a virtual standstill as attendants at jammed and crowded stations feverishly tried to ease the situation as incessant number of other motorists awaited their turns. Queues started appearing at about 1pm and by 4pm, there were massive jams stretching up to three kilometres in several areas. A check by The Borneo Post at the Jalan Sulaman Shell Kiosk saw petrol attendants busily controlling traffic under the scorching sun. A cashier at the same station said the crowd started getting bigger at around 2pm and that many vehicle owners had enquired whether there was any truth in the rumour that there would be another fuel prices hike and stations owners were stopping their business for several days as a sign of protest as their commissions have not been raised. The cashier however replied that they had heard nothing about it from their managers and were surprised with the long queues as well. Motorists however insisted that petrol stations would not be in operation starting yesterday. “My boss instructed me to fill up the tank of his van. He told me that petrol stations will stop selling petrol for three days,” said Peter Lim, while another motorist who was standing close by said he received a short text message from a friend to say that stations will be closed for five days. Several others claimed that they received SMS and calls saying that the fuel rates would go up by another Ringgit from midnight. “I rushed here to get petrol because I was told that the price is going up again,” said Stephanie Laura, who works as a clerk. When told that it was just a rumour, she said she decided to fill up her tank anyway because she did not want to take the risk of having to pay more if rates were to really go up. A teacher, Marianne, in her 50s, said she did not receive any information but had queued up anyway because she was running out of petrol. Concerned motorists from Keningau, Tawau and Sandakan called The Borneo Post Offices throughout the State, seeking to clarify the rumour. “I saw a long queue at the petrol station here. Is the fuel price going up again?” asked Emmy Jane, a housewife from Keningau. At the Esso station in the City, some motorists even filled up plastic containers with petrol to avoid from being stranded just in case the fuel ran out due to the massive jams. Another who called The Borneo Post over the chaotic situation was Joanna Kitingan who said: “Consumers should not panic and they should all just avoid buying petrol for a day. “We won’t die ... and petrol stations don’t make any sale from us, they would have no income for a day too. If they want to go on strike, fine, let them as the Government would revoke their permits.” Joanna also said consumers should protest and if they ran out of fuel and could not get to work, the Government would be forced to reduce fuel prices. “This is all a farce, so only the rich get richer and the poor get poorer by being forced to pay more for fuel,” Joanna added. Sabah Petroleum Dealers Association President Charles Soong said he had no idea how the rumour started and was concerned about what was happening. “All we have done is to stop allowing the use of credit cards at the hundred plus petrol stations under our umbrella, in line with the national Petroleum Dealers Association’s directive. “The national association is asking the Government to meet a few more requirements, including raising our commissions to an acceptable level and if that demand is not met, we plan to not sell fuel for eight hours tomorrow (June 26). But so far, I am sure that this eight hour protest will not materialise as the Government is concerned about what is happening and is expected to listen to our plight,” Soong said. He said he first heard about the rumour at 12 noon and had advised motorists not to believe in them, but many had gone ahead to queue up and fill their tanks. In an immediate response, Shell Malaysia Corporate Affairs and Government Relations Head for Sabah and Labuan, Datin Lucy Irene Yong, said there was no truth to the rumours. “Shell would like to assure all our customers that there is no truth to the rumours. Shell retail outlets nationwide were continuing the normal operational hours. It is business as usual,” she said in a statement. The Consumers Association of Sabah and Labuan (CASH) yesterday advised motorists not to panic as it was just a rumour. “We received a lot of calls and SMSes from concerned motorists prompting us to check with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry here. Their officer had informed us that they were aware of the rumour and had ordered their enforcement officers to go down to the kiosks to investigate. “The Ministry had also sent these officers to order all petrol stations to operate as usual. Fuel is a controlled item, therefore any riot or boycott as rumoured now is prohibited, and legal action can be taken against them if they continue with the plan to stage protests,” said Hashima Hasbullah Yahya, CASH Secretary-General, in a statement. CASH urged the public to lodge a complaint with the Ministry or CASH office if they find any petrol station that closes their operation in a show of boycott. “We have also lodged a police report at the City Police Headquarters in Karamunsing to trace down the source of the rumour ... it was such a chaos,” said Hashima.