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EDITORIAL: The Senate passed three government bills — two pertaining to amendments in the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority Ordinance (Ogra) and one on Allied Health Professional Council Bill — raising questions about the ability of the Opposition to demonstrate its majority once again in the Senate rather than on the content of the bills or on the government’s failure to once again follow procedure laid down in the constitution.

Three observations are in order. First, on 10 January 2022 during a press conference, Energy Minister, Hammad Azhar, revealed that the government would introduce a bill for the weighted average cost of gas (WACOG) for sale of local and imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) which implies that the price of gas would be the average of the price of domestic gas and the price of imported LNG. In other words, fair warning was given by the government.

Estimates for the current year as per Ogra indicate that the cost per mmbtu for SNGPL is 599.84 rupees, SSGCL 725.4 rupees and imported LNG 2200 rupees per mmbtu. And therein lies the seed of conflict between the gas producing provinces and those that do not produce gas given that Article 158 of the constitution stipulates that “the province in which a wellhead of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from that wellhead.” In this context, it is relevant to note that Punjab with negligible gas and the highest demand for gas would clearly be the beneficiary of WACOG.

Second, Azhar claimed during the press conference that Sindh understood the importance of WACOG under which average gas price is projected to rise by 30 percent over the next few years — a claim premised on the fact that during the tenure of the PPP-led government (2008-13) Dr Asim Hussain as the then relevant minister had also proposed the implementation of WACOG. However, Dr Hussain was unable to implement this decision due to opposition by the gas producing provinces, including Sindh, notwithstanding the fact that Sindh at the time was also led by the same party as in the Centre.

Today, the political temperature between the governments in Sindh and the Centre is particularly high with little, if any, discussions on matters of national interest which brings one to the third observation as noted in Article 155 (1) of the constitution: “if the interests of a Province, the Federal Capital or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or any of the inhabitants thereof, in water or any natural source of supply (or reservoir) have been or are likely to be affected prejudicially…the federal government or the provincial government concerned can make a complaint in writing to the Council of Common Interests (CCI);” and as per Article 154 (4), “the decisions of the Council shall be expressed in terms of the opinion of the majority.”

The composition of the CCI is skewed in favour of federal government. According to Article 153, for example, the Prime Minister will chair the CCI, appoint three members from the federal government with all chief ministers members of the Council. Thus one wonders why the government did not summon the CCI and get its proposal approved. This sadly is yet another example of the PTI administration’s failure to follow procedure, a lapse that is inexplicable given that it would have strengthened its decision to introduce WACOG.

To put this in perspective, it is critical to note that in the second week of January 2022 the government’s intent to call a CCI meeting to settle the WACOG issue was reported in Business Recorder, an intent that was revealed by representatives from Punjab and Sindh; however, the federal government in its wisdom, then proceeded to pass the bill from the National Assembly a day later, pre-empting the need to discuss it in the CCI and passed it from the Senate on Thursday indicative of disregard for procedures laid down in the constitution. But the government must not lose sight of the fact that abiding by the constitution and following procedures laid therein is in the government’s interest as it strengthens its own hand for otherwise the matter may reside in courts for years to come.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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