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ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum, Nadeem Babar, has been asked by Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign from his office. The Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives made this announcement in a news conference along with Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, on Friday.

“Secretary for Petroleum Division [Mian Asad Hayauddin] will also be asked to report to the Establishment Division once his replacement is finalised,” Asad Umar said.

He said the Petroleum Division had been told to look at those administrative decisions and quickly report to the prime minister after making those decisions.

The minister said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was being given a mandate to conduct a forensic investigation and complete its report in 90 days.

He said Nadeem Babar and the Secretary Petroleum had been asked to resign so as not to affect the inquiry. He said, “Action will not only be limited to fines. This will be done, so people are handcuffed and sent to jail. Although oil retail companies and fuel stations will be targeted in the forensic audit, it must also investigated, which government officials facilitated such criminal acts.” “The prime minister has taken this decision because the investigation of the whole chain has to happen; there are investigations of billions of rupees worth of loss to the nation, that is why to bring this certainty that there is not even a doubt that anyone could influence [the probe], these actions have been taken for both these individuals,” he said. During the press conference, the minister briefed the media about the findings of the Federal Investigation Agency in a probe ordered by the prime minister to ascertain the reasons behind petroleum shortages in the country in June 2020. He said the final recommendations had been made by the cabinet committee formed by the prime minister to conduct the probe of shortage and increasing prices of petroleum products.

He said that the committee included him, along with federal ministers, Shafqat Mehmood, Azam Swati and Shireen Mazari.

“We forwarded our recommendations to the prime minister, after which he asked for some additional information. When some more information came to the fore, we were given the go-ahead to share our recommendations,” the minister said. The minister said that in the first category, details of criminal acts had been provided under which criminal cases should be registered.

He said the evidence to be formulated in a way that charges could be brought.

The minister said the FIA had been tasked to investigate: - Was the legal requirement for a minimum inventory fulfilled by the oil companies? - Were the sales figures that were reported actual numbers or was there a discrepancy between what was reported on paper and what was actual? Who reported these? Was the product hoarded? If so, then who was responsible?

“These are all those things which in the report are prima facie [...] it was determined that these did occur. So, I am just saying that the evidence has to be given such a shape that it is prosecutable in court,” explained Umar.

The minister also spoke of certain deficiencies in the system, which also saw legal violations, for example, undue advantage taken of temporary marketing licences, illegal hospitality agreements for where the product will be kept, and the product’s sales at illegal outlets.

He said that allegation in the report regarding delayed berthing of an oil ship, so that when new rates are notified, the product can be sold at a higher rate.

“A forensic investigation and pinpointing in this also needs to be done to ascertain who was responsible,” Umar said.

He said illegal sales would also be covered in the forensic audit.

The minister said, “the Petroleum Division will be investigated, as well as the OGRA (Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority), the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Port Authority,” for all the illegal, aforementioned acts.

He said that in the past, the Petroleum Division used to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of the OGRA and vise-versa, whenever questions related to petroleum shortages were raised.

“We have to find out why the institutions could not perform and ascertain whether this is due to the prevalence of corruption,” he said, adding it was important to discover the names of the people who had not been doing their jobs properly and whether they had any accomplices.

He said the government would make legislation to clear the role and responsibility of the Petroleum Division and the OGRA.

“To end that ambiguity, a law will be made and whatever amendments are required, so it is completely clear who has the authority and responsibility.”

The minister said, “It was said about some of the people sitting in administrative positions that their background is such or they don’t have the capability or ability to be sitting on those positions. The Petroleum Division has been told to look at those administrative decisions and quickly report to the PM after making those decisions.”

Answering a question, he said there was no doubt in believing that the responsibilities given to some state institutions were not duly fulfilled.

“We have to end this ambiguity. There are very few penalties for those who harm the economy. The mafia which is working to loot people’s money, Prime Minister Imran Khan won’t spare them,” he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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