The government on Friday hinted at partially scrapping Thursday’s fuel price revision in the wake of severe criticism from political parties and trade unions alike, with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promising consultations to lessen the economic burden of the masses.
Gilani told the Senate that his administration understood the increase was a matter of concern for people and would devise a mechanism in consultation with the political leadership to provide relief to the masses.
“I will ask the finance minister to sit with the leadership and find out how relief can be given to the masses. We need your assistance and advice,” said the premier in response to points of order in the Senate. “We are politicians and we have to deliver to the public. We cannot afford to be rejected by the masses.”
Later finance ministry officials told The Express Tribune a partial withdrawal of up to 13 per cent increase in different petroleum products announced overnight could be one of the options the government could consider to soften the blow on the average citizen.
The latest revision — fuelled by soaring oil prices in the global markets after international forces led by the US-led coalition launched air strikes on Libya — sparked an outcry across different segments of society.
Last month, the government had to cut by half the increase it announced in the fuel prices after a key coalition ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), pushed for an immediate review.
“The same thing can happen again and it should,” a statement issued from the MQM’s headquarters in Karachi said.
The statement quoted MQM chief Altaf Hussain as saying that an urgent review of the move was needed and that the administration ought to bear the cost of the subsidy instead of passing it on to the public.
But a party leader later told The Express Tribune from Lahore that the MQM might accept an offer by the government to consider “other options” to provide relief to the masses instead of scrapping the increase altogether.
Within a couple of days, he said, a delegation of the party would hold a meeting with a government economic team and work out a solution.
Sources privy to the matter told The Express Tribune that the financial experts of the MQM and the PPP would meet at the Governor House on Saturday. The MQM team will ask the PPP to explain the true mechanism of ascertaining the POL prices.
Sources claimed that the meeting would be decisive and if the PPP team declined to rationalise the increase in POL prices, the MQM would take a strong stance and would pull out from the coalition government.
Another government ally, the Awami National Party (ANP), has also criticised the price increase which it said was made without consultation.
Last November, Gilani formed a multi-party parliamentary committee to suggest how the government could respond to oil price fluctuations on the international market. But this panel was never consulted.
“This is not in the true spirit of democracy,” ANP Senator Haji Adeel said in comments aired by a private television channel.
The main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has also hit out at the increase. “It is unjustified…the government is transferring the burden of its failures to the public,” the party’s spokesperson Ahsan Iqbal said in a statement.
His party wants the government to evolve a transparent mechanism for fixing oil prices to avoid putting more pressure on people’s personal economy. He did not, however, elaborate what this new system should be.
With additional reporting by Irfan Aligi in Karachi
Published in The Express Tribune, April 02nd, 2011.