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Fueling the crisis

Our government of the day is never short of crises. The recent gas shortfall is one of them, which has been hitting consumers – both domestic and commercial – and industry of Punjab and Sindh hard since December last. Government’s punitive action hit the heads of the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) and the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) who have been given marching orders from the office of the prime minister for their ‘negligence’. The removal of the top bosses of the companies in the light of an inquiry report might convey a strict warning to the heads of other utilities to either perform or go but such measures do not provide a permanent solution. Come next winter, and the crisis-hungry media will be full of gas shortfall stories. That is how life goes on. The mother of all crises is the management crisis, which stems from the crisis of confidence.
Pakistan, a gas-starved country, is bound to suffer a gas shortfall in winters because of a huge demand and supply gap. It is reported that axe fell on SSGCL and SNGPL managing directors after Petroleum Minister Chaudhry Ghulam Sarwar reported to the prime minister the SNGPL did not inform the government about gas demand and supply shortfall on time where the SSGCL did not intimate the government about faults in the compressors and the lack of data and coordination resulted in fall in gas generation in Kunnar Pasakhi and Gambat gas fields. The end result was a huge shortfall in Karachi, where industry and CNG supply came to a halt. The north suffered gas shortage due to a fault in gas compressors in Nawabshah and Saran fields. The power circles deemed these charges sufficient to establish the incompetence of the managing directors and the failure of the gas supply companies.
The minister’s report influenced the chief executive of the country, who sacked the managing directors. The media also reports that the petroleum division informed the prime minister that shortfall had many reasons, of them gas diversion to fertilizer manufacturing units and export industry for the first time in winter after a liquefied natural gas terminal was shut down for maintenance. The allocations created the crisis, which ultimately has rolled the heads. We can see that the gas allocation has implicated former petroleum minister Dr Asim Hussain in multi-billion National Accountability Bureau reference for he did not allocate gas for fertilizers manufacturing units.
The abrupt removal of the two bosses is bound to create a wave of uncertainty among the bureaucratic circles. They may ask that what was the minister himself doing in those times when the crisis was brewing. The hardly two years statements by (now prime minister) Imran Khan are fresh in the memory of the public when he would demand resignation from then railway minister Khawaja Saad Rafique over a train crash in Lodhran. He would cite examples from the developed world that in the case of a mishap, the minister takes the responsibility and leaves the office.
Once the dust settles, the government needs to take stock of the whole system of data reading of the gas companies and put in place such a mechanism that preempt the problem. Going after the top bosses’ scalps would keep officials over the edge. Unceremonious exits do not set finer examples. A curative approach, however, will be to expedite the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline projects. Now, when the US is trying to broker a deal between Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government, hopefully, the gas pipeline will get a peaceful passage across Afghanistan. Similarly, the prime minister needs to take up Iran gas pipeline with US President Donald Trump and should seek concession on the project.



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