Sunday, January 18, 2015


Does the suspension of four bureaucrats enough?

Amidst lingering petroleum crisis in many parts of the country, including Punjab and the federal capital, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took stern notice of the issue as soon as he landed at the Lahore airport from abroad on Saturday (Jan 17) and suspended four top bureaucrats for failing to deal with the crisis.

Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however, managed to survive the crisis for being a close political associate of the premier amidst demands of his sacking for lack of planning and oversight.

Taking notice of acute shortage of petrol in different parts of the country, Nawaz Sharif convened an urgent meeting of top officials at the Lahore airport on his return home after a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia. The four suspended officers responsible for the crisis include Petroleum Secretary Abid Saeed, Additional Petroleum Secretary Naeem Malik, Oil DG CM Azam, and Pakistan State Oil (PSO) Managing Director Amjad Janjua. The prime minister also directed provincial governments to check black-marketing of petrol. It was decided to expedite the supply and delivery of petrol.
As if the misery brought on by the severe gas and electricity crises was not enough, citizens of the country are now in the grip of a massive petrol shortage, probably of the likes we have never seen before. The state-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) has run out of oil because it has not been paid upwards of Rs 200 billion that it is owed, making it limp and unable to purchase the necessary petrol needed to sustain the economy and the everyday workings of the people. This comes in the wake of the global drop in oil prices whereby the amenity-starved public in Pakistan was daring to breathe a sigh of relief. With the unprecedented drop in prices, consumer demand went up, especially after the availability of CNG became little more than a pipedream. But how could the powers that be let that happen? Staying true to its incompetent self, the government turned a deaf ear to the cries and pleas of the higher ups in the PSO demanding payment of dues to clear credit and purchase more fuel.
The circular debt issue sees the government refusing to pay the core companies that need to be paid the most and before all other concerns. These folks in power choose to pursue other avenues, other causes to ‘serve’ the public such as the Metro Bus Project and the Yellow Cab Scheme but they do not think about facilitating the people on basic provisions. How can the government justify turning a blind eye to fuel, the very essence of a thriving, working nation? Heads need to start rolling now. How can ministers responsible for this debacle be allowed to continue in this manner when an entire people has to queue for hours on end outside petrol pumps to be given rationed petrol to send their children to school, go to work and transport goods? There will soon be a riot at these pumps — in Lahore only 10 percent are operational — with people’s anger reaching flammable levels. The sheer mismanagement and idiocy of the current regime makes the energy-deprived years of the PPP seem like a term in paradise with people at least obtaining petrol to keep their motors running. The Nawaz Sharif government has employed nothing but ostriches who have buried their heads so far into the sand that they cannot hear the plight of the masses. They need to be unceremoniously sacked and bills need to be paid. There are no two ways about it. 
The petrol crisis has become substantially worse in the fifth day of its acute shortage. There are queues upon queues of cars and motorcycles, numbering more than 500 at a time, lined up outside the measly few petrol pumps that are open and rationing their stock. The people are losing patience and the frustration they are feeling could erupt any minute. Some petrol pumps are remaining shut because they are too scared of any potential violence and rioting if they open for business. The situation is escalating from bad to worse very quickly and if something is not done soon, the government will have a very large, very decisive problem on its hands, one that would make the August 14 onwards protests pale in comparison.

As usual, there is no one to blame but the government itself for creating this crisis. Pakistan State Oil (PSO) is helpless in the face of bills being unpaid and no credit left to its name to beg for or borrow any more fuel. A bare minimum of Rs 100 billion is required to improve the situation and that too will take a few weeks to purchase and transport stocks, replenishing the system. So far, the payment has not been made. The country’s depletion of CNG led consumers to switch to petrol, increasing demand and adding the pressure. Couple that with the substantial dip in global oil prices, with people readily using petrol for all their transport needs, and the demand supply chain simply could not cope. Many oil marketing companies were also caught slacking, not keeping the mandatory two weeks stock of reserves to help mitigate such an issue. It was a recipe for complete and utter disaster, and the government has been caught sleeping, ignoring the enormity of the issue. Does the government have a plan of action? According to the petroleum ministry, the petrol crisis might improve in another week’s time whilst other reports suggest that there really is no time frame because nothing can be done without the government moving to fix all default payments. The people will no longer listen to false promises or empty rhetoric. What is needed is a solution, a plan to eliminate all these debilitating shortages of which the petrol crisis is just one. There is no electricity for most of the day, no gas and now no petrol. We are now being told that because of the oil shortage, the power crisis will worsen. How long does the government think it has before the masses, deprived of every amenity imaginable, turn violent on the streets? 

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