Price hike adds ‘fuel’ to opposition fire

Govt under heavy criticism for its move, says rising global oil prices left it with no choice

​ Our Correspondent June 27, 2020
Govt under heavy criticism for its price hike move, says rising global oil prices left it with no choice. PHOTO: APP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties on Saturday heaped scorn on the government for announcing a record hike of nearly 26% in the prices of all petroleum products a day earlier while the latter tried to justify its move.

Speaking in the National Assembly, the opposition lawmakers pointed out that the price of petrol was never increased by 34% in the country’s history.

They also accused the government of caving into the pressure of the mafia responsible for the fuel crisis in the country and facilitating it by increasing prices instead of taking action against it.

However, the government in its defence maintained that the rising international oil prices had forced it to make the decision.

The price of petrol has been increased by a whooping Rs25.58 to Rs100.10 per litre for the month of July 2020. Similarly, the price of diesel has gone up to Rs101.46 per litre from the existing Rs80.15 -- an increase of Rs21.31.

The prices of kerosene oil and light diesel oil have been jacked up by Rs23.50 and Rs17.84 to Rs59.06 and Rs 55.98 per litre.

PML-N President and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in a statement described the fuel price hike as "sugar scandal part two".

"After the sugar mafia, the petrol mafia has also won,” he said alleging that the government had also failed to take action against those responsible for the sugar crisis in the country.

“The government has given a licence to the petrol mafia to loot the public. This proves that this is a government of inefficient, insensitive and oppressive people,” he added. “An oppressive government cannot continue.”

The former Punjab chief minister demanded that the government should immediately reverse its decision to increase fuel prices. "We will protest against this atrocity at every forum including parliament.”

Similarly, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari termed the government’s move “anti-people”. He criticised the government for increasing fuel prices at a time when the public needed relief.

He added that economy was sinking because of the prime minister’s incompetence and now the government was unsuccessfully trying to salvage it by looting the people.

Speaking on the floor of the lower house of parliament, PML-N MNA Khurram Dastgir accused the government of facilitating mafias. “Even the treasury benches are in a state of fear,” he added.

PPP MNA Abdul Qadir Patel while addressing the House demanded that the Federal Investigation Agency should investigate into who hoarded petrol reserves and created the fuel crisis. “The FIA should find out who is heading this mafia and who is receiving kickbacks.”

Defending the government’s move, Energy Minister Omar Ayub told lawmakers that fuel prices had been increased in line with the trend in the global oil market.

“The previous governments protected mafias. The current government is only trying to benefit the people,” he added.

Later addressing a news conference with Special Assistant to the PM on Petroleum Division Nadeem Babar, Ayub said oil prices in the international market had increased by 112% in the last 40 days.

“The government has tried to provide relief to the people in the wake of the rising international prices,” he maintained.

Babar pointed out that based on calculations the increase in the price of petrol should have been Rs31-32 per litre in line with the global trend but the government decided to raise it by Rs25.58 per litre.

He added that the new prices were set on the basis of Pakistan State Oil's (PSO) monthly average.

The SAPM maintained that by raising the prices earlier, the government had decreased the total increase by spreading it over 35 days.

He further explained that oil marketing companies (OMCs) would also face a minor loss in July and there would be net benefit for consumers.

The PM’s aide noted that Pakistan had the lowest petroleum product prices among South and Southeast Asian countries.

He elaborated that the price of petrol was Rs180 in India, Rs108 in Indonesia, Rs153 in the Philippines, Rs159 in Thailand and Rs196 in Japan.

“The government has continued to pass on the effects of falling prices [of oil in the international market] to the people,” he said.

The SAPM said that on February 28 before the coronavirus outbreak, the prices of petrol and diesel were Rs116.60 and Rs127.26 respectively.  Then on June 1, the prices of petrol and diesel were reduced by Rs42 and Rs47. “The government is trying to charge as less as it can despite constraints in its purchasing power.”

Speaking about the petrol crisis, the SAPM said some OMCs were involved in hoarding fuel.

He added that almost all OMCs did not have a 21-day stock as per their licensing agreements and the PSO also had an 18-day stock.

He said the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) needed to be strengthened to prevent this from happening again.

Countering the opposition’s allegations, Ayub said the finance minister during the PML-N’s government had stopped an inquiry against the OMCs involved in wrongdoing. “It was the PML-N that protected these mafias.  Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to end them.”

Earlier, Information Minister Shibli Faraz also pointed out that increase in petroleum products in Pakistan was far less than that in other countries in the region.

“The pandemic has affected all economies of the world. The increase in international prices is unprecedented and that’s why we also had to review our prices,” he tweeted. “Our first priority is to benefit the people and we will carry on our efforts to provide them with relief."

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