The power struggle among cabinet members seemed to be intensifying just a few days after the petroleum ministry’s decision to suspend gas supply to the industries in Punjab, as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar ordered the restoration of supplies on Wednesday.
The decision was taken in the Q-Block – the seat of the Ministry of Finance, after influential industrialists of Punjab approached the finance minister. Dar chaired a meeting to discuss the possibility of providing gas to the export-oriented industry on an urgent basis, according to a handout issued by the ministry.
The meeting was attended by Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) managing director and senior officials of the ministries of petroleum and finance.
Dar asked SNGPL officials to resume gas supply to the export industries, said officials. SNGPL management assured the minister that the industrial units would start receiving gas from Friday.
On February 10, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources had stopped gas supply to all industrial units because of a decrease in mercury level as household demand increased significantly.
The venue of Wednesday’s meeting underscores the growing influence of the Ministry of Finance, which is now being accused of entering the territory of other ministries. Under the 1973 Rules of Business, the subjects of petroleum and gas come within the purview of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.
Earlier, the industrialists from the platform of All Pakistan Textile Manufacturers Association (Aptma) had lobbied the federal government and secured scarce gas supplies in winter months despite the fact that they had supply agreements for nine months only.
The government provided gas to the industry by going against its own allocation policy as the manufacturing units came third in the priority list.
“The decision is taken to address the issues pertaining to the national economic growth, which receives a sizeable contribution from the export-oriented industry,” said the ministry statement.
Dar, who has publicly supported the cause of industries, was of the view that uninterrupted gas supply to them would ensure higher economic growth.
According to him, continuous provision of gas to the industries led to a growth of 5.23% in the large-scale manufacturing (LSM) sector in July-November 2013 compared to the same period of previous year.
He claimed that the LSM sector aided the overall national economy and an exceptional economic growth rate of 5% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year was only the result of a healthy growth in the industrial sector.
However, independent economists question the authenticity of the growth figures and ask the government to improve the affairs of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics – the national data agency. The issue was also raised in the last meeting of the Economic Advisory Council.
According to the handout, the SNGPL management told the minister that improved weather conditions and demand-driven savings had made it possible for the company to ensure restoration of gas supply to the export-oriented industry from Friday.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2014.
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