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January 16, 2021

Opposition, govt senators cross swords over NAB

Top Story

January 16, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate came hard on the government on Friday for the power blackouts, rising inflation and gas crisis while the government blamed the past government of the PML-N for all these problems and asserted that the on-going accountability would continue.

The treasury Senators objected to what they called the exaggeration of figures with regards to price hike and inflation and insisted the government was focused on the reforms in various sectors and had successfully faced the challenges of locust attack and coronavirus. They made it clear that the PDM narrative on inflation had failed to bring people out.

Starting the debate, PPP parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman said that the entire country was facing an unprecedented gas crisis. There was a severe gas shortage, incompetence, cronyism and non-transparent transactions by a government that had neither done its homework nor was interested in governance.

“The inquiry being held is through Nepra. If the appointments made in Nepra are by the federal government, how can they ask the regulator to hold an inquiry over them? We reject this fake inquiry as obviously nothing will come of it and I guarantee that after two and a half years, the government will still say that we are in crisis because of the last regime. They will not explain why the power sector is collapsing, why its circular debt has ballooned or why the country’s total debt has reached unprecedented proportions,” she noted.

She regretted that none was credibly answering key questions on what led to the breakdown of our power sector. The blackout we witnessed reminded us of the blackouts in wartime in mychildhood. Yet here, Tabahi Sarkar let this situation continue for three days but we are yet to see a response to this in the Parliament. Who is going to take the responsibility for this?

Senator Sherry said that there’s an increase in gas supply demand every January. Why was this not addressed earlier? Capacity has to be increased for households and industries. “If we look at the rates of Brent crude, there is a clear discrepancy in numbers. This fiasco could have been avoided had there been some planning. The government could have saved billions on spot LNG purchases had it bought future contracts in summer when the prices for winter delivery were at their lowest,” she added.

She continued that due to the unprecedented mismanagement, our circular debt was rising. Power sector was being run on an ad hoc basis. Ministries concerned are busy targeting the opposition instead of doing their jobs. Governance is not a child’s play. Doing talk shows and selling their false narratives do not equate to running the country.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said that the government was ready for any kind of reforms but NRO would not be given to anyone and the accountability institutions would neither be locked and nor the keys be handed over to anyone.

Responding to the earlier speech of Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla, the adviser to PM, however, emphasized that firstly the position of the government regarding answering questions by calling anyone in Parliament or its standing committees was clear from day one: they have full authority to call someone for conducting hearing and ask questions or seek record.

He said: “Secondly we should reform the NAB law in Pakistan. Since this law was enacted, no attempt has been made to reform it in any previous government and only in Imran Khan’s government and an ordinance was promulgated. Unfortunately, the ordinance kept lying on a House committee and it died there, but none touched it”.

Babar Awan said that if the House took a decision objectively that the looted money from Pakistan would be brought back and that no one was above the law and no absconder would let live abroad, the accountability institutions would not be allowed to be used for vengeance. “There are two objectives of the dialogue: the House should be run in accordance with the Constitution and the institutions should work within their legal ambit. And for this, we are ready,” he remarked.

Babar Awan said that the government gave confidence to the entire nation that it had issued an ordinance on accountability but this ordinance was strangled: What was the fault of the government in this?

Senator Mandviwalla said was that the institutions were not allowed to function and strengthen and the present set-up of NAB —- its chairman, prosecutor and DGs ——- were appointed by the then leader of the house and leader of opposition.

He reiterated that the government was ready for reforms, where there was a room for it but all would have to surrender before the courts and comply with their orders and prove themselves innocent in the courts.

PPP Senator Dr Sikandar Mendhro said the solution to gas crisis lied in implementation of the Constitution and noted that gas availability in our country was: 66.2% in Sindh, 21.7% in Balochistan, 9.39% in KP and 3.39% in Punjab. He said that the Constitution says that whichever province has gas, its need should be met first but still Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa get less gas than its production and Punjab gets far more gas.

Federal Minister for Energy Omar Ayub, in response to questions about the recent blackout in the country, said: “Lack of communication caused the 220,000 voltage line to land at zero and there was a voltage crisis. He explained that this had happened eight times in the last five years of the previous government and we fixed it in eight hours while they took days to do so.

The previous government of PML-N, he noted, had left a mine and said the present government was suffering the consequences of the wrong planning done during the period from 2013 to 2018. The minister contended that the payment of capacity which is an interest payment and has to be paid in every case was Rs 185 billion in 2013; in 2018 the PML-N government increased it to Rs 468 billion.

The minister noted: “These landmines were left to us and the first was the Rs 229 billion ‘mine’ that they left because they knew they would come back to power and it would have to be filled by the next government. The government defused the mine by giving subsidies. The country was going through a very difficult phase. I salute all the members of the federal cabinet who got the people out of trouble”.

He said that the people were suffering the consequences of the wrong plan of the PML-N government the amount of capacity payment will increase from Rs 807 billion to Rs 1,455 billion.

“The previous government installed the first LNG terminal at 13.37 per cent and the second at 11.62 per cent. We have no answer as to why the prices of two identical items are different and for the same reasons; they mortgaged the country,” he charged.

The minister alleged the Sindh chief minister comes and sits in the Council of Common Interests. He knows everything but still he goes out and speaks wrongly. About the strategy, he said that the government was going to auction 20 new blocks Friday. The previous governments did not work on the new blocks. .

In his speech, Senator Saleem Mandviwala said that NAB had filed a reference on his request and that he was fighting this war that NAB should not be versus business.

The PPP Senator said that the NAB chairman had said that he was being blackmailed, the doors of the Senate were open on him, come and tell us, who was blackmailing him. He made it clear that he would continue his struggle to keep the NAB out of business otherwise it would be difficult to do business in the country.

He also clarified that he had no personal fight. “I don’t care if there are 10 cases against me, but the private business community in the country should not be targeted by NAB,” he emphasised. He continued that it was a strange atmosphere that on Dec 29, the NAB Board released the news that a reference had been filed against such and such a person and when they were contacted, they said that they had not even filed a reference.

“I have received a copy of the reference and I want an open trial. We prevented the FBR from entering people’s bank accounts with great difficulty. This is what the NAB is doing today. The SBP is ‘helpless’ and they say there is nothing we can do because it has come from NAB. We have to send the details,” he explained.