Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 22, 2015

Scapegoating The preliminary report of the two-man inquiry committee comprising officials of the Oil and Gas Development Company looking into the petrol crisis blamed first and foremost the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) for the debacle, endorsed Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s suspension of four senior officials, and suggested that the Deputy Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) was equally responsible. That led to the PM suspending that gentleman too, bringing the total suspensions to five. But surprisingly, the report had nothing to say about the three ministries being blamed for the crisis: petroleum, water and power, and finance. As a result, their ministers stand absolved of any blame. Presiding over a meeting to review the crisis, the PM directed the ‘concerned authorities’ to take necessary steps to avoid the recurrence of such a crisis. He directed the petroleum ministry to report on the petrol situation throughout the country on an hourly basis. All this is fine, but failure to pin the blame on those actually responsible or negligent is the missing step if the crisis is to be controlled, first and foremost, the proper lessons learnt from the experience, and those widely deemed responsible sacked if they do not resign. None of the three ministers is willing to accept responsibility for the crisis, the petroleum and finance ministers ducking the issue, blaming ‘others’, and the latter falling back on the time honoured but discredited gambit of conspiracy theory. By now, the whole story has been done to death and precious little is left unknown. PSO, as the major oil importer and distributor, was starved of necessary funds to carry out these critical functions over months (if not years). Falling prices may have produced an uptick in petrol demand, but this does not explain the sudden shortage. That can only be laid at the door of the disruption of the supply chain, with PSO centre-stage and the other oil marketing companies (OMCs) secondary players, despite pleadings and warnings by PSO amongst others of the critical situation of petrol supplies. All these pleas and warnings fell on deaf ears. OGRA, singled out for the major blame, has denied responsibility (this denial business threatens to become an epidemic in the country) and pointed to its warning on December 28, 2014 about the dire situation of petrol supplies. Stung to the quick by being blamed, OGRA has in turn come down with notices on the OMCs for failing to keep adequate stocks as required. A contributory factor may be that the post of Member Oil in OGRA has been vacant for six months because the previous incumbent has gone to court on his removal. All this smacks of going round and round in circles without being able to catch one’s own tail or truthfully and impartially lay the blame where it is due. Unfortunately, the principle that the buck stops at the top has gone abegging in Pakistan generally, and in this case in particular. What should have happened is that the three ministers, petroleum, water and power, and finance, who were the central figures in this whole mess should have resigned, and if they did not, been sacked. It is the failure of the PM to do so and his attempts to find scapegoats amongst officials while leaving his blue-eyed ministers in place that have swung the finger of accusation finally on him. The PPP has categorically said the PM himself is to blame as the head of the government. It has reminded the public that it had warned of an impending petrol crisis in the last session of parliament. It has now summoned a session of the National Assembly precisely to discuss the debacle. The Senate in the meantime has planned a joint meeting on January 23 of its three committees on petroleum, water and power, and finance, and summoned the relevant ministers, officials, oil companies, etc, to attend the hearing. Other than these developments, PSO claims an easing of the critical petrol shortage but the situation on the ground in the shape of the still winding long queues before filling stations erodes the credibility of the claim. The crisis has badly exposed the failings of this government in ministers taking responsibility, the lack of coordination between them, and the overly centralised manner of running the government, with the PM’s absence from the country perhaps contributing to a situation where no one seemed to be minding the store. Nawaz Sharif should stop living in his dream world of having an ‘experienced team’, get a grip on reality, sack incompetent cabinet members, induct replacements on merit and apportion cabinet posts only on the basis of competence. Politics can be a hard mistress, and if the PM fails to show resolve and responsibility, the buck eventually will stop at him.

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