Fuel crisis: What to do now?


Last June’s energy crisis had laid bare the fragility of Pakistan’s oil supply chain in a baffling manner. This grabbed the headlines for a particularly inauspicious timing. In the midst of a global pandemic when unprecedented stay-home calls were being raised everywhere, Pakistanis were driving around from station to station in their endless pursuit for petrol. Nearly a year and a damning commission report later, the prime minister has decided to send Special Advisor Nadeem Babar packing. A much-needed action, albeit taken a bit slowly. Given the ubiquitous condemnation of the authorities concerned for not learning any lesson from the January 2015 petroleum shortage, Islamabad was abuzz with rumours of his resignation for quite some time now. This publication had broken the very story over a month ago. There are now speculations that Secretary Mian Asad Hayaud Din might also face the music in the same crisis.
Yet, resignations alone cannot solve all problems on their own. Pakistan’s gross mismanagement had touched the precipice of a disaster of unknown proportions despite oft-raised red flags (strategic reserves being compromised, Pak-Iran border closure and bureaucratic delays). Just like half a decade ago, the market players’ ploy to avoid inventory losses in the face of falling global prices has been at play again. However, the official inaction could not be absolved under any circumstances this time as the government refused to rattle out of complacency until the eleventh-hour. As the government gears up to take into account whether any unlawful activity had actually taken place, it should be prudent enough to pull out all the stops. Tough action is needed right across the board. The SAPM was recently castigated by the Lahore High Court over shifting the blame to Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority. Back in 2019, his appointment had stirred a storm over his substantial shares in an IPP, Orient Power. But moving forward, many other actors in the petroleum ministry hold a similar conflict of interest. Petroleum Minister Omar Ayub is under fire for focusing the war on “unknown mafia.” Instead of managing the fuel crisis, he appears ever-ready to drop a bit of advice to refineries or facilitate OMCs. Though Advisor for Commerce, Abdul Razzaq Dawood, had resigned from all offices he held in Descon, he still holds sway over ownership stakes on top of those owned by his family.
The same company was awarded a mega-contract for Mohmand Dam in 2019. A similar impression of a deep bone of contention continues to taint Economic Affairs Minister Khusro Bakhtiar’s appointment.
This government has entered office on promises of ethics. Naya Pakistan cannot prosper based on even a sneaking suspicion of cutting corners. It is, therefore, crucial that across-the-board changes are brought to the skipper’s team. Only a team free of all suspicious guises holds the moral high ground to bring tangible changes against the non-stop onset of crises.