Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain became the focus of an all-out attack and unrestrained criticism during Saturday’s proceedings of the upper house of parliament, with accusers from all quarters questioning his decision to announce an increase in the prices of petroleum products earlier than planned.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senators Zafar Ali Shah and Ishaq Dar said, on a point of order, that the minister had ‘clearly supported the gang of hoarders’ by announcing the increase in POL prices earlier than February 1, adding that it was a violation of standard operating procedures. The decision will lead to a ‘storm’ of price hikes across the country, the lawmakers complained.
Criticism of the minister wasn’t limited to opposition lawmakers. Senators from his own Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also came down hard on him. Leader of the house Nayyar Hussain Bokhari said, sternly, that Dr Hussain should not have made the announcement because ‘it’s not his prerogative’.
“Determining the prices of petroleum is not a prerogative of the ministry of petroleum, it’s the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra)’s job,” Bokhari said, adding that “the federal minister for petroleum should not have made this statement regarding an important issue before the set time”.
Law minister calls action illegal
This was followed by a strict rejoinder from Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio, who, while talking to the media outside the Parliament House, termed Dr Hussain’s statement ‘illegal’ and beneficial to hoarders.
“I’m unable to support the statement of the petroleum minister about an increase in POL prices as he has made this announcement too early, violating all the procedures due in this course,” he emphasised.
The law minister also spoke on other matters, saying “The joint session of parliament is expected in the first week of February and we’ll try our best to bring the accountability bill in Parliament soon to evolve a consensus over it”.
A source in the petroleum ministry revealed that Dr Hussain had announced the increase POL prices on Friday. The source added that Ogra was still to finalise oil prices in consultation with oil marketing companies. While highlighting the respective roles of the petroleum ministry and Ogra, he said the role of the ministry was to merely convey the prices calculated by Ogra to the finance ministry and the prime minister for the final approval.
Power infrastructure bill blocked
Earlier, at the start of the proceedings, the Senate chairman deferred the question hour at the request of the leader of the house and took up the business of legislation for debate. Opposition members refused to allow the Private Power Infrastructure Board Bill to be passed by the house. The majority of the Upper House members were of the view that the bill should be debated further.
Senator Shah objected to the representation of Azad Kashmir (AJK) in the board, saying AJK had its own government system. Senator Waseem Sajjad and Senator Bokhari opposed this, with Senator Sajjad adding that considering Kashmir a separate country was not a positive approach.
Earlier, while making a policy statement in Senate, Dr Hussain said a policy is being evolved in consultation with all the stakeholders to ensure the quality of CNG kits. He admitted that due to the use of second-rate CNG kits, explosions in public vehicles were on the rise. He said Ogra was responsible for checking such incidents. The minister had also also opposed an adjournment motion moved by Senator Khurshid Ahmad regarding substandard CNG cylinders.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar also opposed Senator Ahmad’s adjournment motion regarding the harassment of women in NGOs, saying legislation had already been enacted to ensure the protection of women in the workplace.
The chair also ruled that a committee be set up to look into all laws which need amendments after the passage of the 18th Amendment. The session was later adjourned till Tuesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2012.