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Tabish Gauhar develops rift with two federal ministers: Power Crisis Among Powerful

SAPM Tabish Gauhar develops “serious rift” with Ali Zaidi, Asad Umar.
Gauhar complaints to PM Imran Khan over the two ministers interfering in the affairs of the energy ministry.
Shaukat Tarin, Umar and Zaidi had objected to delayed dry docking.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Power and Petroleum Tabish Gauhar has developed a “serious rift” with two ministers who are part of the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCOE), TTI news Section reporting

Gauhar has complained to the prime minister that the two ministers are interfering in the affairs of the Ministry of Energy, as per top official sources and one of the CCOE members, says the report. 

Gauhar is currently not attending the CCOE meetings, said the source, adding that the prime minister has been told that the CCOE has ordered an inquiry into the dry docking of the FSRU at Engro terminal. 

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, being a member of the CCOE, and Minister of Planning Commission and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, being the chairperson of the CCOE, gave a tough time to the Energy Ministry for arranging LNG at a higher cost and for the dry docking of the FSRU at the Engro Terminal. 

The decisions forced the country to face a gas-electricity crisis, subjected the government to the wrath of the Opposition and triggered a backlash from the masses.

Cabinet members object to delayed dry docking

In the CCOE meeting, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, along with Zaidi and Umar, objected to the delayed dry docking from June 29 to July 5, raising questions as to why it wasn’t carried out in 2019.  

Tarin, as per sources, wanted an inquiry into the dry docking as he thought the decision would impact the government’s pro-growth plans. The ministers wanted an inquiry with Federal Railways Minister Azam Swati heading it while Gauhar, on the other hand, wanted it squashed. 

However, after registering his protest with the prime minister, Gauhar feels at ease, says the report, adding that however, he has actually landed himself into the eye of the storm on the handling of the country’s most strategic project with Russia– the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project.

Cabinet ministers were also shocked over Gauhar’s decision to head to Dubai for a few days during the country’s power and gas crisis when the dry docking had taken place. The “top man of the government”, as per the report, held separate meetings with Zaidi and Umar, urging both to keep Energy Minister Hammad Azhar in the loop before taking any CCOE decisions. 

Tabish Gauhar, chief executive officer of Karachi Electric Supply Co., speaks during an interview at the company’s head office in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Karachi Electric Supply Co., the distributor of power to Pakistan’s financial capital, may make a profit next year for the first time since the government sold a stake in 2005 after the utility curbed electricity theft. Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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 Swati. 

“If they do not reply, it will become clear that the inquiry has been pushed under the carpet,” sources said.

Pertinent, tricky questions

The questionnaire includes some very pertinent, but tricky questions such as:

  • Who is responsible for the contingency planning of the LNG/RFO/LSFO and when were all fuels calculated? 
  • Who supervised that process? When was the last coordination meeting of fuel calculations held and who chaired it? 
  • Were fuel stocks at Kapco, Muzaffargarh, Jamshoro and Hubco adequate for the peak summer season (June, July)? 
  • He also asked the relevent persons to submit data of all refineries’ production, inventory and sale from April 2020 to June 2021

As per the report, these questions that seek detailed records of all refineries, production and inventories is making one of the “top men” at the petroleum division extremely uncomfortable, as he has a ‘soft corner’ for one of the refineries from which he is alleged to have benefited a lot by selling furnace oil during the crisis.

Sources said that despite protests from Gauhar, the inquiry will go ahead since it is part of the written procedures of the CCOE and has been ratified by the federal government. 

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 closed doors 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 that the procurement of costly LNG cargo for July 11-13 would further surge the circular debt.

‘Powerful circles’ closely following Hammad Azhar, Tabish Gauhar’s handling of energy ministry

The report said that “powerful circles” are closely following Azhar and Gauhar’s handling of the energy ministry and the critical Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project (PSGPP) with Russia, which is almost near fruition. The project is at risk of being subverted, says the report. 

“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 Monday the four-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 Gauhar and allegedly received a briefing on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project, amongst other energy issues, inviting serious concerns and raising questions.

Ahmed Mukhtar Naqshbandi

Media person and communication expert for over 25 years. Worked with Dow Jones News, World Bank, CNBC Pakistan, Aaj TV, ARY TV, Abbtakk TV, Business Recorder, Pakistan Observer, Online News Network, TTI Magazine and other local and world Publications.

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