04 May, 2011

Sometimes Good Things Happen

Back on February 9, 2011 Belize Channel 7 News broke a major scandal regarding the outright theft from everyone in Belize by the butane companies ( Channel 7 followed up with more detailed reports over the next few days and exposed just how corrupt the butane vending system had become - country-wide.

It was particularly onerous as this theft, which apparently had become virtually institutionalized, stole not only from the rich, but equally from the poorest of the poor and everyone in between. Everyone, in every social strata, uses butane, and from what Channel 7 unearthed, all were being systematically ripped off. At least the thieves didn't discriminate or pick on one segment of Belizean society. They hit everyone.

Well, the powers that be, from the Prime Minister on down to the concerned department Ministers, quickly jumped on the band wagon and rules were soon implemented that required vendors to sell butane by the pound and not to meter it by the gallon. The only hitch was that the scales which were necessary were in extremely short supply and also had to be calibrated and certified by the Government of Belize. It was estimated that it would be months before enough scales could be put in place to begin correcting the problem, if it was done at all. There was a lot of grumbling from the butane industry that they weren't crooks, blah, blah, blah. It seemed to everyone who read the news or saw it on local TV, well, Channel 7, anyway, that the industry planned to stonewall it for as long as it took to repeal the new rules.

I had filled a 100-pound butane tank in January, before the scandal hit. Just the other day, my tank ran out. I have an identical tank for the pool house, so I just swapped tanks. Today, I called Smith Butane to see if they could come fill my empty tank. They said they were coming 'right now', and sure enough just as I was hauling the empty tank on my hand-cart up to the gate, here they came with their old rusty, beat-up tanker truck.

I was planning on giving them somewhat of a hard time about using a meter on their truck and not using a scale. I said 'somewhat' as the couple that is Smith Butane, are both elderly and live in the part of Ranchito Village that's close to us and is called 'Alien Town' (Apparently there were a lot of aliens who settled there after the caste wars of the late 1800's). They are very nice and have been the only butane dealers who actually come when they say they will. In fact, they're so prompt, I always imagine them hiding just around the corner and saying "I know he's going to call for butane soon, I just know it." So, when I do call, bing, bang, boom - there they are - just like today when I called.

Anyway, here's what I found when they arrived. I wheeled the hand-cart around to the far side of their truck and saw the meter, disconnected and laying on a sort of shelf above the valving. Mrs. Smith was busy unloading a brand new, certified digital scale, which she promptly set up and then Mr. Smith put my tank up on the scale.
Mrs. Smith Setting Up The Scale
A big part of the operation involved watching the digital readout on the scale, especially after they placed the tank on the scale bed. It took quite some time for the scale to settle down and provide an accurate reading because of the sloshing of the remaining butane in the tank. It was for this reason that they both said they didn't like the new scale - it was too sensitive. I tend to agree with them after watching the readout go from 30 pounds to 37 or 38 pounds and back and forth, back and forth, for minutes.
Waiting for the Scale to Settle Down
Here's a view of the scale readout. The Smith's, even though they dislike the sensitivity of the scale, were very proud of it and took pains to show me the certification sticker on the neck of the scale and the lead tamper-resistant seal on the back of the scale readout.
Detail of the Scale Readout
It's not a cheap piece of equipment either. Mr. Smith said the scale cost them over $1,000.00 BZD. A considerable sum here in Belize and for the Smiths.

I don't for a minute think the Smiths purposely scammed anyone with their butane business. With the decrepit truck and equipment they are using, if they were making 'extra' money, I don't know what happened to it because they sure didn't get any of it. Like I said, they're very nice people and are also extremely proud of their new digital scale.

And I was very, very surprised and pleased to see the scale, certified, secured and in use. If the Smith's can acquire a scale and get it certified, then every other vendor in the country should be able to do the same thing with absolutely no excuses!


JRinSC said...

Whoops! My comment on the propane people managed to end up on your next posting.. Oh well, hopefully you will figure me out....

Vivien said...

It is good to hear that Smith and Sons has a scale. They are a nice family. One time when the son delivered to us there was a snake in our yard that crawled into some rock wall. The son came back after he finished his deliveries and dealt with it for us.