Alexander McNabb

ENOC/EPPCO Thrown Out of Sharjah

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The Emirates National Oil Company and the Emirates Petroleum Products Company, better known to us all as ENOC/EPPCO, or the ENOC Group, are facing a deadline to get their forecourts pumping fuel or face closure, according to today’s papers who all delightedly slapped the news on their front pages.

As Mark Twain once said, “Never pick a fight with someone who orders ink by the barrel.”

According to the reports (The National does by far the best job of reporting the story, BTW), the Sharjah Executive Council through the Sharjah Economic Department set a 72 hour deadline Tuesday (it meets each Tuesday) for the company to get its stations in Sharjah working again, which would give it until tomorrow (Friday) to comply. The ENOC Group operates 82 outlets across Sharjah and the Northern Emirates. Well, operated. They’ve been failing to actually sell any petrol for the past month.

The National reports that the penalty for non-compliance will be the closure of all service stations and facilities operated by the company in Sharjah. That’s pretty hard-core.

The whole situation has been rendered that much more ridiculous by the company’s early attempt at shrugging off the problem with a little slice of the mendacity that so many organisations here so readily employ when asked anything even remotely challenging by media. It appears we’re learning the lessons all too slowly – it’s not just print media that matter now: when you say your forecourts are closed because they’re being upgraded, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are thousands of eye witnesses out there more than willing to share the ‘Oh no they’re not’ online – with each other and, of course, with any watching media.

After that little slice of silliness, the company has refused any comment at all, every report in the media graced with the failure of the ENOC Group spokespeople to return calls or comment. The ongoing policy of silence in the face of public concern and the questions of media haven’t helped the company at all. The explanation delivered to the Sharjah Executive Council (one was, apparently) is being treated by confidential by the SEC, but the papers have enough energy experts quoting away for us to be able to substantiate what commenters to my much, much earlier posts on this have said: the issue is one of being willing and able to continue to supply petrol at a loss because the company buys fuel on international markets and then has to sell at locally regulated prices, which are substantially lower.

Given this is the case, you’d be forgiven for wondering why they didn’t just go ahead and say it. If the intention is to promote a change in the regulations or to gain some assistance in subsidizing the price of fuel, what could the possible harm be of letting the debate take place in public? If the company had been open and transparent about the situation in the first place, enunciated the issue and its position, it would likely have people understanding the issue and the company’s response. There’s even an argument that it would have prompted a faster and more positive resolution to the whole situation by bringing it out into the open.

Now they’re facing being shut down and I can’t see many tears being shed – particularly if they’ll be replaced by nice, shiny ADNOC stations.

Update: Gulf News confirms what my eyes can see – EPPCO and ENOC stations in Sharjah have been sealed off today, shut down by the Sharjah government because the company failed to respond to the Sharjah Executive Council’s (quite proper) concerns that a major supplier of petrol and diesel to people living here has simply failed to pump any of the stuff for something like a month now.

Worse, the company chose (as I have pointed out many times, with apologies for the repetition) to maintain a policy of stoicism – silence in response to the media and silence in response to the Sharjah government. The end result? They’ve been shut down and their brand is in tatters, reduced to a laughing stock. 

The petrol company in a leading oil producing nation that couldn’t actually supply petrol. That’s pretty special, no?

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