Apart from a vague and popularly considered mendacious statement about pump upgrades, the petrol station operators responsible for the fuel shortages in the UAE have remained silent. Both Gulf News and The National report today with sidenotes to the effect that no spokesperson could be reached from Enoc/Eppco or Emarat. And, in fact, The National notes that officials from Jebel Ali Port were also unavailable or not commenting.
Gulf News today played catch-up with The National, which sent reporters to Enoc/Eppco petrol stations to determine that no pump upgrade work was going on, as it reported yesterday. GN today files on 'sceptical motorists' who point out, as I have indeed found, that stations 'closed for upgrading' miraculously open after the supply truck has swung by. The National has, once again, done a sterling job.
The lack of transparency is so stunning, it's amusing. This is, indeed, humour of the incongruous. And, of course, by failing to tackle the very proper concern of the general public, the operators are making it all a great deal worse. The papers are rubbishing the statements and talking to petrol pump attendants, motorists, analysts - in fact, anyone who'll talk to them. The result is a rising tide of reporting and growing public alarm which is leading to panic buying. This, of course, is putting more pressure on those stations that do have fuel and now even Adnoc stations are running dry despite the fact that they don't actually have an underlying supply problem.
So by staying silent, the operators are creating an ever-larger rod for their own backs. Tell people what the problem is, how you're solving it and how long it'll take. It's not actually very difficult.
What's the solution? Well, even the most hide-bound of morons would have worked out by now that the genie is out of the bottle. Social media, that Internetty thing, allows people to share opinions and views - so we all know what the papers are trying to prove - the stations aren't closing for upgrades. They haven't got any fuel to sell us because deliveries aren't coming through. There is a very real and basic problem here and it's not logistics or maintenance. As Gulf News quotes Kate Dourian, Middle East editor at Platts:
"Emarat, like the other two main gasoline suppliers, Enoc and Eppco, has for years been operating at a loss because it buys product at international prices and sells at government-regulated prices below market value."
This GN story goes into some depth regarding the subsidies issue.
That's not an 'issue at Jebel Ali' or a 'pump upgrade'. That's a very real systemic problem that could well have medium to long term effects - the issue has been bubbling under for months, with incidents of shortages going back to last year. So this is hardly a new situation - there has been plenty of time to plan a better, smarter communications strategy than dumb silence and unsustainable assertions.
The irony is, of course, that if irate consumers withdraw their custom, these companies will breathe a sigh of relief! So why not just clam up and wait for it to all blow over? Once supplies are restarted, people will forget all about it and life will go back to normal. They're not answerable to any consumer association or ombudsman, so a strategy of silence won't do them any harm, right?
Wrong. It's yet more bad publicity for the country as a whole (the oil producer that ran out of fuel - wait for the internationals to pick that one up) driven by old-fashioned contempt for the media and public that has resulted in considerable concern and inconvenience for a large chunk of the population.
We can all see the genie. Perhaps it's time for the operators to tell us what they're planning to do about it. When they do, they can console themselves with this: there's no shame in telling the truth.