Passing the gas buck

Published: September 12, 2018

The basket of woes left by the previous government becomes heavier by the day for the PTI. Gas pricing has for years been complicated and anything but transparent in its formulation. It was clear from Day 1 of the new government that gas was high on the agenda and that it was included in the ‘tough decisions’ list already trailed as targets in the first 100 days. Making the jump from campaigning to governance is a difficult trick, if only because something has to be actually done rather than merely talked about, and doing something about gas, particularly if it means raising tariffs for the domestic consumer, and that consumer is typically poor or low income.

The government has now pressed the pause button after a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the federal cabinet. It is at least possible after protests from the Sindh chief minister that the matter will now be passed to the Council of Common Interests as per the requirements of the Constitution. The matter under discussion is of crucial interest to the poorest gas consumers, namely a rise of 186 per cent in the slab that uses between 100 and 300 cubic metres of gas a month as well as a rise of 30 per cent for all other categories of domestic consumer. Such are the sensitivities attached to this decision that the information minister issued a recorded message for the media on the outcome of the meeting rather than face the almost certainly probing and awkward questions that would have been put to him in a live press conference.

This is not the way to bring transparency to governance, neither is it the way to convince a querulous electorate that they are being dealt with fairly and equitably. Whilst we welcome a deferment pending a mechanism that reduces the pain for the poorest gas consumers, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that thus far the government is less than sure-footed, and 100 days is fast ticking away. Of one thing we may be sure. Gas is going to cost more.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2018.

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