ISLAMABAD: It appears as if some quarters did not want Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chosen as ‘interim’ prime minister as the timing of the surfacing of liquefied natural gas (LNG) scandal – which is already dealt with by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – is no coincidence.
The selection of the former petroleum minister for the top slot in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court comes in at a time when, apart from others, a pool of PML-N ministers was vying for the slot.
The NAB had investigated the LNG project for ‘violating’ provisions of the contract between Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and Engro Corporation. The DG NAB, Karachi was tasked to probe the management of SSGC in the case registered on July 29, 2015, in which Abbasi was accused of corruption to the tune of Rs220 billion.
However, documents available with The Express Tribune revealed that the anti-corruption watchdog had closed the inquiry after a detailed probe and the decision to close the case was taken during a regional board meeting held on December 19, 2016.
According to the documents, the DG NAB had recommended, before the regional board, to close the inquiry.
The board meeting was informed that after exhaustive discussions, it had been decided that it was an ongoing project and any intervention by the NAB at that juncture would jeopardise the efforts of provision of LNG from the project of public and national importance. It was, therefore, decided to close the inquiry, revealed the NAB documents.
During the investigation, the then federal minister for petroleum Abbasi had said that the Inter State Gas Systems (ISGS) – a state-owned company with expertise in handling large infrastructure projects – was tasked with facilitating the re-gasification of Pakistan’s first LNG terminal, which was done in record time of less than 11 months.
The project was now internationally acknowledged as a success story.
During the investigation, it was also informed that all Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules had been followed in the process of granting the terminal’s contract.
As many as 16 companies had submitted bids in response to the tender floated by the ISGS. Of those, two qualified for technical evaluation. One of them could not clear the technical evaluation, while the remaining one – ETPL – qualified for the financial bid.
“PPRA rules do not disallow single-party participation in financial bids,” an official said, stressing that the ISGS’s role was limited to facilitation and coordination and after opening of the financial bid, the process was completed by the SSGC.
The then petroleum minister had told the NAB that ETPL, which was selected through a PPRA-compliant competitive bidding process by the SSGC, would recover its investment and make profit with the help of a re-gasification tolling fee of $0.66 per mmbtu, including operating costs, over the 15-year lifetime of the project.
It was one of the lowest re-gasification fees in the world despite the fact that Pakistan was considered a high-risk country by international contractors, he had said.