Hong Kong’s government watchdog has called for a crackdown on illicit dealers in diesel fuel, saying the problem should be tackled at its source by regulating supply, but the Security Bureau bluntly rejected the proposal.

The Ombudsman published results from two investigations on Thursday, one of which looked into the government’s efforts to combat illegal sales, and made suggestions to the Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Security Bureau.

Photo: GovHK.

Out of the five recommendations made by the Ombudsman, only one was targeted at the Security Bureau, which was for it to review the effectiveness of measures suggested to the FSD.

“If the results are still unsatisfactory,” the watchdog said the Security Bureau should “explore the feasibility of introducing control-at-source improvement measures, so as to combat illicit fuelling activities at the source of supply.”

The Ombudsman found that some oil companies will sell light diesel oil to customers for their own use and also to distributors for resale at wholesale price. But the FSD and the oil companies did not know the identity of the customers, making it difficult for the FSD to trace cases where the diesel was brought for illegal purposes.

Some illegal fuel station operators also smuggle oil into Hong Kong in order to avoid paying tax.

“In other words, under the existing regulatory framework, while the FSD has endeavoured to combat illicit fuelling activities, its hands are tied in terms of stemming the supply of fuel for illegal filling stations, and hence its effort can hardly tackle the root of the problem,” the report said.

The Security Bureau said it welcomed the four suggestions made to the FSD but the recommendation to tackle illegal fuel at source was “impractical.”

Secretary for Security Chris Tang. File photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The Bureau said the aim of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance was not to regulate the supply and sale of dangerous goods but to ensure fire safety during manufacturing, storage, transport and usage.

“The Dangerous Goods Ordinance regulates a broad range of substances, including many widely used consumer goods used by citizens in their daily lives,” it said in a statement.

“Therefore, the suggestion of regulating the supply and sales of dangerous goods may cause inconvenience to citizen’s lives and the industry’s business, and does not fit the government’s principle of ‘bringing convenience and benefits to the people and businesses’.”

The Security Bureau said that given the complexity of the operations of diesel dealers, and the fact that the Ombudsman’s suggestion exceeded the intention of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance, the bureau “cannot accept” the recommendation in the report.

Illegal fuelling remained ‘prevalent’

The Ombudsman found that the FSD had “conscientiously endeavoured” to crack down on unauthorised fuelling, despite limited resources and manpower, “illegal filling stations remain prevalent in view of their huge demand and profitability.”

Operators of some such stations had adopted more “flexible modes,” including keeping the amounts of diesel stored in those stations below the statutory exempt quantity.

The Ombudsman Winnie Chiu with reports of two direct investigations conducted by the watchdog. Photo: GovHK.

The watchdog noted that there were only seven members in the FSD task force responsible for inspecting and carrying out enforcement actions at 350 blackspots.

“Constrained by relatively tight manpower, FSD should review the Task Force’s existing staff establishment and, based on actual circumstances, explore the need for its adjustment through internal redeployment and/or seeking additional resources from the Government, so as to cope with its heavy workload,” the report read.

The report also found that the fines imposed for such offences, which range from HK$5,000 to HK$50,000, were “insufficient to create an adequate deterrent effect in comparison with the profits derived from operating illegal filling stations.”

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.