Unraveling the thread of responsibility being the oil tanker spill in Ahmadpur East, which lead to the death of 214 people, and perhaps more, reveals a string of regulatory oversights, derelictions of duty, cost cutting an plain incompetence. It seems that on every stage of the regulatory and safety equation – starting from the emergency response team, to the contractors shipping the oil, up to the third party inspectors charged with maintaining standards across contractors and finally up to Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) at the head of this pyramid – all had shirked their duty in one way or another and are guilty of gross and criminal negligence.

The result of this collective failure is this; an estimated 85% of all tanker lorries transporting oil products are not complying with prescribed standards. That is a scary number, considering how devastating the oil tanker explosion in Safeerwala was, another one like that is almost a certainty – in fact a similar incident happened a few days later, thankfully without the spilled fuel igniting.

In response to this startling revelation we see the regulatory bodies scurrying to offload the blame on someone else. OGRA blames the oil market companies (OMCs) it had hired to conduct safety checks, and is planning to fine them 10 million to pay compensation to the victims. The OMC blame the individual contractors, who have consistently failed to comply with their directions. The contractors, fearing a strict judgment have asked for a two year grace period to comply with regulations.

Enough responsibility has been shirked, we have 214 people burned to death – there can be no grace periods, no fines, and no slaps on the wrists. A regulatory network that has failed to such an extent that 85% - almost all – of dangerous oil tankers are not meeting regulations needs to be shaken up from top to bottom and the people responsible for this failure criminally prosecuted.

This must start from OGRA, which has offloaded its responsibility to inspect to third parties and fined those minor amounts for catastrophic failures. Heads must roll at that institution, despite outsourcing, it is the final authority and all responsibility ultimately lies at their doorstep. As for the OMCs, this has to be the final straw – OGRA must start inspecting these vehicles themselves or find new OMCs. The previous ones have failed, and cannot be trusted anymore.

The regulatory sweep must be equally strict, contractors should be given a month to comply with regulations – no more – and vehicles not roadworthy should be taken off regardless of the consequences to the oil national supply. Contractors may protest and procrastinate, but lives of Pakistani citizens are more important than a smooth supply of fuel.