Thursday December 02, 2021

Fake shortage of petroleum products: Govt ordered to publicise inquiry commission’s report

By Amir Riaz
December 15, 2020

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered the federal government to immediately make public an inquiry commission’s report into fake shortage of petroleum products that led to a crisis and rise in prices during the first half of 2020.

Additional Director General of Federal Investigation Agency Abubakar Khudabakhsh, Chairman of the commission, presented the sealed report before Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan during the hearing of petitions seeking action against the responsible for the petrol crisis. Khudabakhsh read the operative parts of the report for the utility of the court.

The chief justice rejected the federal government’s request for a delay in the release of the report. He remarked that the report should be automatically made public as per the law after the deputy attorney general told him the reportwould be presented before the federal cabinet today and would be made public after getting approval.

The chief justice remarked that the commission was formed on the directions of the court and it is the prerogative of the court to publish the report. “The report would be made public even if the whole cabinet opposes it.” The court said it is not possible for the government to publish the report whenever it wants. Under the law, the report of the Judicial Commission will be published automatically.

The DAG argued that it is the federal government’s prerogative to publish the report as it had notified the commission. The law officer said the report would be released after an approval by the prime minister.

The chief justice said: “You cannot stop the publication of the report of the commission.” He inquired as to what law stipulates that the report should be published within 30 days. Amicus Curiae Owais Khalid said it is the prerogative of the court to publish the report of the commission.

During the hearing, the head of the inquiry commission was asked to come to rostrum. He informed the court that the Ministry of Energy is not having the complete record regarding the situation of petroleum in the country. He said the Ministry of Petroleum and the Ministry of OGRA do not have complete data on petrol pumps. In 2006, the powers of the OGRA and the Ministry of Petroleum were determined. According to the points mentioned in the report, the commission revealed that the Ministry of Energy is not having complete record regarding the petroleum situation in the country.

The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and oil companies continued to put blame on each other, the report read. It recommended dissolving the OGRA and providing time of 30 days for reviewing the petroleum prices instead of 15 days.

The commission head told the court that the authorities concerned didn’t take advantage of decreasing petroleum prices in the international market. Seven companies got profit of Rs 2 billion in first four days due to the increase in petrol prices, he stated.

Details of the inquiry report further revealed that the petroleum division’s subsidiary departments were found guilty for crisis as they didn’t carry out scrutiny of companies’ reserves. The petrol supply was deliberately halted to the pumps while an artificial crisis was created. Veterinary doctor Shafi Afridi was made director general of the ministry, the report revealed. It stated that the main reason behind petrol crisis was lack of proper communication mechanism between division and its subsidiary departments. He said Byco company head Amir Abbasi is wanted by the NAB for a corruption of Rs 23 billion, but he struck a plea bargain of Rs one billion to secure his release.

The chief justice remarked that the NAB chairman made tall claims, but a culprit has been given clean chit after getting a meager amount from him whereas his corruption was huge. He pointed out that petroleum products of Rs 250 billion are smuggled from Iran’s Taftan border. He said only 20 per cent of smuggled petrol is confiscated and the sale of a huge quantity of smuggled petrol caused financial loss to the oil companies. The CJ adjourned the hearing for a date to be fixed by the office. The petitions had been filed by advocates Farhat Manzoor Chandio and Azhar Siddique.