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Fleeting moments

January 22, 2015
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The fuel fiasco

Opinion

January 22, 2015

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The efficiency of a government is most visible on the roads and in the homes and shopping areas. When there’s chaos on the roads because of mismanaged traffic, there are long lines because of fuel shortage, and homes are submerged in darkness because of power outage, the people are justified in blaming the government for its maladministration.
The country has faced an acute shortage of petrol in the last one week. While the government functionaries came out with different explanations, the prime minister suspended four senior officials of the ministry of petroleum for dereliction of duty. Suspended among them is also the PSO managing director. The MD had started alarming the government since the middle of last December that fuel crisis was in the making and the company urgently needed its outstanding dues to stave it off. His early warnings couldn’t help him retain his job.
But Minister Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi came out with the most bizarre logic – that as the price of the fuel went down the public thronged the nearest fuel pumps to fill up. Generally, every consumer has to meet a certain demand for fuel whether it is cheap or expensive; therefore it’s pointless to say that consumers made a beeline to the gas stations since the price had dropped.
As usual, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar played a smart one. On his return from Japan, he quickly called the fuel crisis a deep conspiracy against the government and swiftly absolved himself of any responsibility. Of course, Dar’s position makes him untouchable. Why didn’t he point out who conspired against the government?
But Chaudhry Nisar who probably believes in what Aldous Huxley wrote in one of his novels “rolling in muck is not the best way to get clean” said just the right thing: the fuel crisis is the result of government mismanagement.
What he meant was to say sorry to placate the fuming public and get on with the damage control. By the way, why don’t our saviours stay home to

serve the interests of the people who voted them to power instead of globetrotting?
Although Khaqan Abbasi took pains to remind us that the breakdown of the fuel supply chain had nothing to do with the surmounting circular debt, everyone understood that he only meant to save the government, especially the finance minister from public embarrassment.
However, when discussing the fuel and power crisis, the ever deepening circular debt never fails to surface. According to initial reports, it was the circular debt of about 500 billion owed to the PSO by various government entities that was the main cause of its failure to maintain the chain of supply and demand smoothly. The circular debt soars mainly because of the subsidies the state provides to the power consumers.
And circular debt is likely to increase with time. The only way out is to develop hydropower projects. Kalabagh, the site gifted to us by nature to produce cheap electricity, waits for the consensus of the politicians.
The distribution companies that, as a rule, were mandated to maintain twenty days of fuel supply failed to do so because of the falling prices of the fuel. In fact, if the government had the public interest in mind, it should have procured petrol and furnace oil at cheap rates to build up a large inventory since the international oil market was glutted with it. When the fuel was cheap everywhere, the Pakistani consumers stood in long queues for hours to manage just afew litres.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.
Email: [email protected]

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