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Senate debate: PPP smells a rat in LNG deal

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The major opposition political party in Senate – Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – Friday showed scepticism on recently signed LNG agreement between Pakistan and Qatar, saying it has doubt that the deal was struck in a transparent manner. Taking part in a debate on government’s economic policies with particular reference to collection of Rs 101 billion from utility consumers, Aitzaz Ahsan, the opposition leader in Senate, plainly said ‘a reference should be prepared against the prime minister and his minister – Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – for finalising the LNG import deal in a very non-transparent way’.

In the face of critical energy crisis, Pakistan has recently signed a deal with Qatar for import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which, according to it, would be a game changer in the energy sector of the country.

Aitzaz questioned: “Whether international tenders were floated? Whether Qatar was the single country from where it [LNG] could be imported?” Referring to earlier plans for a gas pipeline from Iran, though the Americans had warned that the scheme could fall foul of their sanctions against Iran, Aitzaz insisted that Iran and Russia are also into LNG business, adding why gas was not imported from these countries at a more cheaper rate than Qatar.

Rejecting government claim of striking cheapest deal with Qatar, he said that the prices of LNG would go up when the petroleum products prices would increase in the international market. He also questioned the 15-year deal with Qatar, saying it would be difficult for next governments to continue with the deal on the conditions set by the incumbent regime. “The government has made the next governments bound by striking such a deal…how the oil prices could be predicted for 15 years”, he questioned.

Ahsan said that it was astonishing to see the prime minister himself participated in the signing ceremony of the deal, adding perhaps he did it as one of his closest aides – Saifur Rehman (a former controversial chairman of an accountability commission) was behind all this deal. Since Qatar is part of an anti-Iran Saudi Arabia-led alliance of Muslim countries, which Ahsan said, could be yet another setback for Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project.

“The fate of IPI is in jeopardy with signing of Pakistan-Qatar LNG deal as Qatar is part of anti-Iran alliance,” he maintained. He severely criticised the government of what he described, has become habitual to ignore important constitutional bodies such as Council of Common Interest (CCI), adding it should have been taken up with the CCI before striking a deal with Qatar.

About the government’s decision to impose Rs 101 billion additional taxes on people for laying down new gas pipelines from Karachi to Lahore, he said that this was double taxation as consumers were already paying Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC). He said that the government was not inclined to impose direct taxes and only wanted to tax the poor and would keep on the ‘subsidising the rich with regard to imposition of taxes’.

He said that all these points should be included in the reference against the prime minister and his cabinet member – Khaqan Abbasi. With a pressing demand to immediately reverse its decision over taxation on gas consumers, he called to convene an emergent meeting of CCI.

Source: Business Recorder

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