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Thursday December 02, 2021

Tabish Gauhar lands himself in eye of storm

Finance Minister Shaukat Train is also upset over the adverse impact of dry docking on economic activities and the damage to his pro-growth policies

July 13, 2021
SAPM on Power and Petroleum, Tabish Gauhar. File photo
SAPM on Power and Petroleum, Tabish Gauhar. File photo

ISLAMABAD: The SAPM on Power and Petroleum, Tabish Gauhar, has developed a serious rift with two powerful cabinet ministers in the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCOE) where an intense divergence of opinion has turned into personal animosity.

Tabish Gauhar, who is currently not attending the CCOE meetings, registered his protest with Prime Minister Imran Khan against the two ministers, pleading that the two cabinet members were interfering in the affairs of Ministry of Energy, top official sources and one of the CCOE members told The News. The PM has also been conveyed that the CCOE has also ordered an inquiry into dry docking of FSRU at Engro Terminal.

However, Tabish Gauhar did not respond to The News even after three days to the questions sent to him asking about the rifts with Federal Ministers Ali Zaidi and Asad Umar. Gauhar also did not respond to the phone calls of this scribe who tried his best to meet him at his office but he chose to avoid giving his version.

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, being a member of CCOE, and Minister of Planning Commission and Special Initiatives Asad Umar being chairman of CCOE gave tough time to Energy Ministry for arranging LNG at a higher cost and dry docking of FSRU at Engro Terminal, which forced the country to face gas-electricity crisis and subjected the government to the wrath of the opposition and backlash from the masses.

In the CCOE meeting, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, along with Minister Zaidi and Umar, objected to the delayed dry docking from June 29 to July 05 and why it was not done before in 2019. Tarin wanted an inquiry as in his view, the dry docking will also damage the pro-growth activities of the government. They also ordered an inquiry headed by Railways Minister Azam Swati. Top sources claim that Tabish was also trying to get the inquiry abolished.

However, after registering a protest with the prime minister, SAPM on Power and Petroleum Tabish Gauhar feels at ease, but has actually landed himself into an eye of the storm on handling of the country’s most strategic project with Russia Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project, also.

The cabinet members also seem shocked as to why during the dry docking process and huge gas and power crisis, Tabish Gauhar went to Dubai for many days. The top man of the government is said to have held separate meetings with Maritime Minister Ali Zaidi and Minister for Planning and Special Initiatives Asad Umar and directed them to take on board Energy Minister Hammad Azhar, prior to taking every decision by CCOE.

Meanwhile, Swati has already sent a questionnaire containing 29 queries to the Petroleum Division, Sui Southern, Sui Northern, PLL and PSO and Engro LNG Terminal Company. The questionnaire is already in circulation in the media. This is the litmus test for the government as to whether the Petroleum Division and its attached departments give answers sought by Azam Swati. “If they do not reply, then it will become clear that the inquiry has been pushed under carpet,” the sources said.

The questionnaire includes some very pertinent but tricky questions, asking who does contingency planning of LNG/RFO/LSFO and when were all fuels calculated? Who supervised that? When was last coordination meeting of fuel calculations held and who chaired it? Were fuel stocks at Kapco, Muzaffargarh, Jamshoro and Hubco adequate for summer peak season (June, July)? And submit data of all refineries’ production, inventory and sale from April 2020 to June 2021. These questions seeking the data of all refineries, production, inventory is making one of the top men of Petroleum Division extremely uncomfortable, as he has ‘soft corner’ for one of the refineries from which he is alleged to have benefited a lot by selling furnace oil during the crisis. However, despite all the protests by Tabish Gauhar, sources believe since the decision on inquiry against delayed dry docking is part of written proceedings of CCOE, besides it has also been ratified by the federal government, it is unlikely to be stopped.

The issues at the heart of the matter are complex and raise some very uncomfortable questions. According to sources, during the last CCOE meeting, the energy ministry was asked as to why it secretly procured LNG cargo at over $13.45 per MMBTU in July during the dry docking process by ignoring the cheaper LNG cargoes from Qatar.

The Pakistan LNG Limited (PLL) had floated tenders for July 11-13 but rejected those it received at $11 per MMBTU on the pretext of being expensive and went for retendering. The other bid was received at $12.77 per MMBTU was also rejected. Later, it contracted an unpublished tender behind doors closed at the highest price of $13.45, which it surprisingly accepted. The Maritime Minister came down heavily on the Energy Ministry and asked for the rationale behind the unjustified decision arguing the procurement of costly LNG cargo for July 11-13 would further surge the circular debt.

Similarly, the ‘powerful circles’ are closely following the Petroleum Division, headed by Hammad Azhar and Tabish Gauhar and their handling of the critical Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project( PSGPP) with Russia, which is almost near fruition, is being subverted. "Once again, it was SAPM Tabish Gauhar who drove the CCOE summary pitching for an alternate pipeline project plan," top sources in the Petroleum Division told The News.

A Russian 12-member delegation is visiting Pakistan to start from today (Monday) the 4-day ‘make or break’ talks with Pakistani counterparts. Russia is seemingly offended by the CCOE decision of June 24 tasking the Petroleum Division to complete by mid-July its working on an alternate pipeline project, observing PSGPP will be delayed further after it has already missed the deadline of the Supreme Court.

The country’s powerful circles want the Russian Federation to build stakes in Pakistan’s economy by participating in the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project instead of restricting itself to defence cooperation alone. Keeping in view the changing geo strategic politics, the “powerful circles’ prefer Russia to become part of the project. In utter disregard of the large country’s strategic interests, the Petroleum Division is already working to finalize the alternate pipeline project plan named as RLNG-III pipeline with the consortium of SSGC, SNGPL and PAPCO.

If this was not all, ahead of Russian negotiations over the pipeline, the US Embassy officials last Friday (July 09) met Tabish Gauhar and allegedly received a briefing on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project, amongst other energy issues, inviting serious concerns and raising questions.

The News also contacted the spokesman of the Prime Minister's Office. The question asked was that SAPM Tabish Gauhar has developed serious rifts with Ali Zaidi, Maritime Minister, and Asad Umar, Minister for Planning and Special Initiatives, in the CCOE meeting on dry docking of FSRU at Engro LNG Terminal and alternate arrangement to lessen the intensity of gas-power load shedding. In that meeting, a probe committee headed by Railways Minister Azam Swati was notified with an aim to probe as to why dry docking was delayed too much, which was due in 2019. Azam Swati committee was basically formed on the insistence of Finance Minister Shaukat Train, who was too much upset over the adverse impact of dry docking on economic activities and the damage to his pro-growth policies. Tabish Gauhar became very upset on this move and he then decided not to attend the CCOE meetings. So he did not attend the last two CCOE meetings; instead he submitted his protest with PMIK, saying the said two ministers always interfered in Energy Ministry affairs. Hammad Azhar was also with Tabish in a meeting with PMIK. Tabish wanted to get the inquiry by Azam Swati stopped. Both were of the view that CCOE didn't take them on board while taking the decision about initiating the inquiry. After then, the PM held separate meetings with Ali Zaidi and Asad Umar and asked to take on board Hammad Azhar on every decision to be taken by CCOE. The same question was also sent to Information Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry but he also did not respond.