Disconnecting illegal gas lines was long overdue
We commend Titas authorities for taking steps to identify and disconnect around 600,000 illegal gas lines from October 2021 to June this year, after years of public outcry over the issue. However, there is no room for complacency, for the question still remains: why did Titas allow such a large number of illegal lines to accumulate over the years, if not decades? Was it negligence or deliberate oversight that led to such an enormous drain on our resources?
One may recall that an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2019 had found 22 sources of corruption inside Titas, and highlighted that unscrupulous employees in collaboration with technical experts were involved in providing illegal connections, especially at night, in exchange for bribes. Over the years, we have also expressed our concern about the involvement of Titas officials with various syndicates, with little action taken to root out the corruption within the organisation.
At a press conference on July 10, the Titas managing director stated that punishment had been meted out to 228 corrupt officers and employees – with eight of them sacked and 16 suspended. While this move was long overdue, we cannot help but wonder if all the perpetrators had been identified or punished, particularly those in positions of power within the organisation, given the enormity of the problem.
The MD further claimed that his employees have little involvement in the irregularities, with most illegal lines being installed by outsiders, including local political leaders, supporters of local lawmakers and welding technicians. If that is indeed the case, then criminal action must be taken against these outsiders, irrespective of how much power they wield. Simply blacklisting the subcontractors, as Titas has done, is not enough – those involved must be brought to book.
Meanwhile, it would be dangerous for the organisation to ignore or downplay the serious allegations of corruption within it. It must also address the fact that it did not have an in-built mechanism to identify illegal lines as and when they were set up, raising concerns about how it will ensure they remain disconnected in the future. At a time when our gas reserves are running low, we cannot afford to waste the little that remains. The authorities must remain vigilant to ensure that problematic past practices do not continue, and that there is indeed "zero tolerance" of corruption within Titas, as the MD claims.