Justified public concerns
Two months ago, the Regulator for Energy and Water Services and the Malta Competition and Consumer Authority had announced that tests would be carried out in the wake of a number of extremely worrying, seemingly unexplained gas-related incidents that had led to injury and even loss of life and property. The incidents had inevitably raised public concern.
The two watchdogs had been prompted to make this announcement following the safety concerns raised by the death of a man in a fire started from a gas heater and another incident during the same period when another man suffered serious injuries at his home. Concern was further compounded when a commercial establishment had to be evacuated also due to a fire.
At the time of these incidents, the utilities and consumers watchdogs let it be known, possible to allay any fears harboured by the public, that safety checks were being done on gas supply equipment and systems, namely of the gas regulators and the gas cylinders. The procedure included inspections to establish whether the product had passed all the necessary compliance checks in line with EU legislation. These tests, they stated, were to be backed up with physical product testing in an accredited laboratory and results would normally be made available within a fortnight or three weeks, subject to the availability of the laboratories.
A commitment was also made by the two regulators that additional checks would be carried out “with immediate effect” both on the quality controls being conducted in the filling plants and on the safety of the cylinders being placed on the market.
To the ordinary man in the street these commitments by the lead authorities in this field covering such a wide range of technical and procedural issues indicated that the two watchdogs were taking the public’s concerns seriously, as they should. Many would have also rightly understood that the results would be communicated publicly in due course to assuage any worries.
However, when this newspaper enquired to find out what had happened, the energy regulator refused to disclose any results of the tests carried out or say whether any recommendations had been made with a view to improving safety. A spokeswoman obfuscated the issue by claiming that the statement issued referring to the tests was not in reaction to the recent reports of incidents but was a mechanism required by law. She also noted that the incident resulting in a fatality was the subject of a magisterial inquiry and, thus, the regulator would not comment.
Such bureaucratic stonewalling by regulators, which have an overriding duty of care for public safety in an area of considerable interest where the consequences of weaknesses in the system could be horrific, is unacceptable. On grounds of transparency and accountability alone, the information divulged so far is inadequate.
More importantly, however, the Regulator for Energy and Water Services and the Consumer Affairs Authority have a duty to reassure the public that, in the wake of the safety checks they undertook on gas supply equipment and systems following the recent spate of incidents, these have proved successful and all the necessary compliance checks showed that Malta was fully in line with EU legislation.
By withholding such information, the two watchdogs simply exacerbate concern that something is not exactly right.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial