FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 22

A tame surrender to ‘fuel mafia’

An abrupt and unprecedented hike in prices of petroleum products has dented the last iota of credibility of the government among the people of the country. Weeks after its failure to end an acute petroleum shortage and blaming “mafias” for creating another crisis in the country, the government meekly surrendered to oil marketing companies and allowed them to rob the common people of billions of rupees.

The haplessness of the government before one of the biggest mafias of Pakistan has dashed the hopes of the people of the country, who had voted Prime Minister Imran Khan to power in the 2018 election on the slogan of change. The government not only failed to take action against companies and elements involved in hoarding and black marketing, but also joined them in the end in robbing the people of billions of rupees. Since its installation, the government has only piled misery on the common people and they have reached the conclusion that it has no qualms about overburdening them and leaving them at the mercy of mafias, profiteers and hoarders. Essentials have gone out of the reach of the common man after massive devaluation of the rupee and a persistent hike in electricity and gas tariff. Rising fuel prices are also contributing to it.

On June 25, the government increased the prices of all petroleum products by up to Rs26/litre. The price of petrol was raised by a whopping Rs25.58 to Rs100.10 per litre from Rs74.52, an increase of 25.6pc, according to a Finance Division press release. The price of high-speed diesel (HSD) was hiked to Rs101.46 per litre from Rs80.15, a jump of Rs21.31. The new price of kerosene oil is Rs59.06, a rise of Rs23.50 over Rs35.56. The price of light diesel oil (LDO) was pushed up by Rs17.84 to Rs55.98 from Rs38.14. It said the decision to revise the prices upwards was taken “in view of the rising oil prices trend in the global market.”

Not only the hike was unprecedented, but it was also shocking for the people that the government could not wait for the start of the next month and jacked up the prices five days before it. The announcement of the fuel prices hike was unexpected as the prices revised last month were to remain in effect until June 30. New prices are usually announced on the last day of every month and come into effect after 12am for the upcoming month. In contrast to the old practice, the revised prices were announced a few hours before they were enforced.

The next day after jacking up the prices, the government again admitted that it had sufficient evidence to prove that oil marketing companies (OMCs) and petrol pump owners were storing oil while expecting an increase in the prices. Addressing a press conference, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar and Minister for Power and Petroleum Omar Ayub Khan, quoting statistics, said OMC sales figures in the first 10 days of June was 52pc higher than the same period last year, which was not possible because of lockdown in the country. It clearly proves oil was being hoarded to make undue profits.

The government should admit its failure that it was responsible for the fuel shortage in the country as it could not assess the situation rightly. The shortages occurred after the government reduced prices in May, as Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to pass on the benefits of lower international oil prices to the public and bring down inflation. However, the move backfired. The oil companies and refineries objected that the prices had been revised downward on the basis of month-old rates as the prevailing international prices were sharply rising and it would not be possible for them to arrange cargo deliveries in June at the price the government had notified in May. However, the government persisted with its plan and the oil companies and refineries implemented their own strategy, despite action by law-enforcement agencies against their executives. However, the oil companies had the last laugh. They slowed down imports and curtailed supplies across the country, creating long lines and dry-outs at filling stations.

The government claims fuel prices in Pakistan are still the lowest in the region. It could be right but it has no justification for the abrupt and phenomenal hike in prices. Many people believe the pretext of “rising oil prices trend in the global market” is absurd as the prices had not increased overnight. It was also not shocking that there were no lines at the filling stations the next day after the prices were increased. The supplies improved miraculously in a few hours after the notification.

People say they had voted Prime Minister Imran Khan to power to fight mafias but he has surrendered to them. Few months ago, he ordered action against sugar and wheat mafias. The result was that their supplies decreased and prices increased. The same is the case with the oil companies. He blames mafias for creating trouble for his government. Undoubtedly, a number of mafias operate in Pakistan but it is also a fact that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government is losing its battle with them.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is right when he says that he is fighting mafias in Pakistan. However, he has failed to provide relief to the people in his 22-month rule. Rates of all essentials, food, electricity and gas have doubled. Bad governance and inefficiency have been the main traits of his government. He should have come to power with better preparedness, especially when he already knew he had to face mafias.