PML-N’s penchant for creating controversies

Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani is to visit Pakistan next week to what sources told Business Recorder was to attend the Pakistan Day parade as well as settle the final terms of the LNG deal. Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on his return from Qatar, had revealed in a press conference less than a week ago that the first shipment of LNG would be arriving at Karachi port on or around 26th of this month. The minister’s statement gave rise to questions about whether the first shipment would arrive without a firm deal, as the agreed pricing is an integral component of any purchase deal, having been struck. It is little wonder that Asad Umar of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has raised some legitimate concerns about the deal itself.

It is extremely unfortunate that the PML-N government continues to exhibit a marked penchant for creating controversies through not revealing the contents of commercial contracts that it has signed since it came to power in June 2013. And given the corruption scandals that have routinely surfaced during the tenure of our governments in the past, including the two previous tenures of the PML-N, this ‘secrecy’ in the award of contracts by itself raises serious concerns amongst the general public that is then promptly and legitimately picked up by opposition parties. Why is the LNG pricing a matter of secrecy when it is a government-to-government contract? It has been reported by Business Recorder that Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) will announce the price after it adds on all other associated costs including transport as well as the price that it would charge generation companies. Reports also indicate that Ogra has firmed up the price with four generation companies – a price set that needless to add would be passed on in its entirety to the consumers – be they industrialists, farmers or households. In other words, the purchase price of LNG from Qatar would have direct bearings on our kitchen budgets and therefore needs to be announced by those who negotiated the price – a committee which comprises, among others, the Minister of Petroleum. It is imperative that the government places the contract on its website for greater transparency.

The LNG deal is just the latest in a series of deals made by the government that has given birth to a perception that all is not above board. Another example is the economic corridor with China that opposition members maintain has undergone a change in its route to benefit Punjab. Vehement denials by the government have not changed this perception. Jamshoro coal-fired project has also become steeped in controversy because of serious flaws noted by the financing entity, Asian Development Bank, in the bid evaluation process in late 2013. The metro bus project currently in progress in Islamabad-Pindi is also mired in charges of corruption in relation to the award of contracts with PML-N’s point man for the project Hanif Abbasi inexplicably maintaining that his terms of reference did not include procurement.

In addition, projects with foreign companies like Reko Diq continue to be seen as indicative of successive Pakistani governments’ failure to honour deals made by their predecessors on charges of corruption in the award of the contract – charges that stick because of their violation of procurement rules and/or failure to take all stakeholders on board.

The PML-N government surely must be aware by now that following due process is the only way forward, and with its ambitious privatisation plans it is critical that the party leadership begins to follow due process as enunciated in the public procurement rules. Any deviation for whatever reason must be cited, for example the government never tires of stating that no foreign investor other than China is interested in investing in this country and hence deals that benefit China and violate our procurement policy have been supported. Transparency is the demand of the populace – a major and till now the only positive outcome of our seven-year-old democracy.