A day after the water and power minister emphatically announced the end to load shedding in the lower house of parliament, he unequivocally admitted to lawmakers in the upper house that all appears bleak at the end of the tunnel.
“We are heading towards a disastrous situation when it comes to the power sector … collective wisdom is required to protect the ailing sector,” said Naveed Qamar on Tuesday while concluding the debate on increase in fuel prices.
Former petroleum minister Dr Asim Hussain was supposed to conclude the debate but is abroad, accompanying the premier on a visit to Qatar.
Earnings on fuel
“If the government stops collecting taxes imposed on oil and gas, it will have to face a budgetary deficit of Rs200 billion annually,” Qamar said.
A senator from the government’s allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, said the government was collecting Rs46.18 per litre on account of taxes and levies on fuel.
“Double taxation on petroleum products is morally wrong,” he said.
Qamar, however, said the government was earning Rs30 per litre on petroleum products and Rs20 on diesel.
He added that new gas connections will not be issued, despite receiving over 0.2 million applications during the last three years.
Winding up the debate, Qamar urged lawmakers to come up with concrete suggestions to make “a solid policy to avert disastrous situation we will be facing within next three to four years.”
He attempted face saving too, claiming that his ministry did deliver, despite the financial crunch.
Criticism from all corners
Criticism came from across the room – opposition and treasury benches – with senators urging the government to provide “relief to the public.”
The crisis has rattled industries across the country and an energy plan should be the government’s top priority, said Senator Professor Khurshid from Jamaat-e-Islami. He also called for formulating rules on new gas connections.
Awami National Party’s Senator Zahid Khan attempted to deflect the blame on former dictator Pervez Musharraf.
“Dictators always brought prosperity to the country by borrowing dollars … This bubble pushed the country’s economy towards failure,” said Khan.
He was refuted by Mashhadi who added that the incumbent government is also responsible for the disastrous situation the power ministry is facing. “It’s time for taking strict measures to utilise the country’s natural resources,” observed Senator Haji Adil.
Meanwhile, Senator Abdul Rahim Mandokhail also pointed to the mounting debt and said that “a productive strategy is required to control it.”
The Senate chairman deferred the Special Economic Zones Bill, 2011 until Friday due to objections by ANP senators and sent it to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance.
The Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University Bill, 2012 was deferred on request of Leader of the House Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari. The session was adjourned till 4pm on Wednesday (today).
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2012.