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ISLAMABAD: Tender for the auction of 20 new oil and gas exploration blocks would be opened on coming Friday while efforts are afoot to bridge huge gap between demand and supply of gas, currently recorded at 7.5 billion cubic feet and 3.5 bcf respectively, Federal Minister for Energy Omar Ayub Khan told the Senate on Friday.

Speaking on the floor of the House, the minister said a number of vital initiatives were in the pipeline that would strengthen the energy sector in Pakistan.

He strongly criticised the previous federal governments of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for the challenges related to energy sector the country was faced with today.

“The gas demand is 7.5 bcf and supply is 3.5 bcf. The past governments did nothing to respond to huge disparity between demand and supply. Our government has prioritised improving energy sector, and opening of the tender for 20 new oil and gas exploration blocks would be a milestone in this regard,” he said.

The minister said new agreements would be signed with the IPPs (independent power producers). Work was under way on North South Gas Pipeline with Russia, he said.

The government’s priority, he said, was to change the energy structure with focus on renewable energy that would result in cheaper and affordable electricity.

“The average solar energy and wind energy projects’ rate was 24 cents in the past which has been brought to 3.6 cents presently. This has become possible due to our prudent and visionary policies,” he said adding that the government would ensure clean and green energy in the entire country by 2030 that will improve fuel mix and competitiveness. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the Integrated Generation Expansion Plan was being worked on, Ayub said.

In the power sector, the minister said the entire nation was bearing “the brunt of wrong decisions” of former PML-N government from 2013 to 2018. “The PML-N government installed ‘landmines’ for us through its disastrous decisions and actions in power sector, and our government is still grappling with those landmines,” he said.

The capacity payments were recorded at Rs185 billion in 2013 that were raised to Rs467 billion in 2018 due to wrong selection of plants and wrong contracts signed by the PML-N government, he said.

The government still had to pay an amount of Rs219 billion as interest on capacity payments, he said.

Despite the havoc that COVID-19 unleashed across the country, Rs472 billion subsidy was given to the power sector due to the efforts of the Power Division and Finance Ministry, he said.

The PML-N during its entire tenure in power could not transmit more than 18,500 to 19,000 megawatts of electricity in the system, Ayub said. Last year, 23,500 MW of electricity was transmitted, he said. Additional 4,000 to 4,500 MW were also transmitted and Rs49 billion invested for the improvement of transmission system, the minister said adding that Rs74 billion were invested on the improvement of power distribution system, an amount more than the related target given by NEPRA (National Electric Power Regulatory Authority).

More funds would be invested on low-performing distribution companies, HESCO (Hyderabad Electric Supply Company), SEPCO (Sukkur Electric Power Company), QESCO (Quetta Electric Supply Company) and PESCO (Peshawar Electric Supply Company), to improve their power transmission systems, he said.

Taking a jibe at the PPP, the minister said, “The power distribution system was disastrous in places like Sehwan Sharif and Larkana when the PPP was in the federal government. Now, we are focusing on these areas and ending the kunda (theft) culture.”

Omar Ayub termed Asif Zardari “Mister 10 per cent”, which attracted protests from PPP senators including Behramand Tangi and Sherry Rehman, but the minister continued his speech.

On the recent countrywide power breakdown, the minister said a turbine breaker at Guddu Power Plant had a fault that was fixed and the breaker was energised but without informing the National Power Control Centre which resulted in voltage crisis and caused the countrywide power outage.

“The power blackouts took place eight times in the tenure of the former government. It took them days to deal with partial breakdowns, and we energized the entire country in eight hours,” the energy minister said adding that independent inquiry committees were probing the matter.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman took on the federal government for holding power blackout inquiry through NEPRA.

“If the appointments made in NEPRA are by the federal government then how can they ask the regulator to hold an inquiry over them? We reject this fake inquiry as obviously nothing will come of it, and I guarantee that after two-and-a-half years, the government will still say that ‘we are in crisis because of the last government’,” she said.

Senate deputy chairman Mandviwalla “congratulated” National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman for “filing a reference on my request”.

He said, “After a lot of efforts, we saved the people’s bank accounts from the FBR, but today, NAB can access bank account(s) of any citizen without giving any reason.”

Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said no change in NAB laws was made in the 10 years of the previous two governments.

“Institutions are active today because they know no NRO would be given to anyone. State institutions were never allowed to work freely in the past -— there was a time when a sitting senator was made head of accountability. Accountability shouldn’t have double standards. It’s high time the House decided no one was above the law,” he said. The Senate would meet again on Monday.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021