EDITORIAL: Hopefully, the PM hasn’t fired off his celebratory tweets too soon about the federal and Balochistan governments and Barrick Gold Corporation having reached an agreement, in principle, to reconstitute the Reko Diq project. Because one of the first things to become very clear, as usual, is the fact that the government did not bother to take all stakeholders on board once again.
Settling a case that had no business lingering for 10 years, and also avoiding the $11 billion penalty, is indeed very welcome and must be lauded, but why did the proceedings have to be kept secret from the people of the region and their representatives? Now what do you say to local outfits like the National Party, which is the first to reject the new deal, when they complain about being left out and question the intention behind getting it ratified by the provincial cabinet in its meeting in which most members were not in attendance?
Since the government is obviously very eager to sell this as a “game changer”, it should answer these and a few more questions immediately to keep the debate from heading into a whole new direction. For example, there have been and continue to be concerns about literally throwing away the family silver with the kind of prices that are settled, and this agreement has also not addressed them to everybody’s satisfaction, so why the rush to push to the headlines now; which meant sneaking it past the people and the cabinet? Does it have anything to do with the no confidence that has been tabled in the National Assembly, as NP asked?
There have been an odd number of attention-grabbing announcements lately, all understandably politically motivated and precisely because of the no confidence motion, but some are already feeling the heat. The famous relief package that cut fuel and electricity prices till the budget has been red flagged by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), for being “one step forward, two steps back”, and also independent economists, for putting more pressure on the current account and reserves than can be handled; and the people, ultimately, will pay even more for it.
Surely, the government wouldn’t have wanted to conclude these Reko Diq new-agreement negotiations, which had been going on for a very long time, just to take more wickets on the same ball because its time was running out. The matter will still go to parliament and the Supreme Court, where there can be no secrecy. It is no stranger to the halls of the apex court, of course, and hopefully what happened there once, though for very different reasons, will not need to happen again. The Reko Diq copper-cum-gold project is, quite literally, a goldmine the likes of which few countries are ever blessed with. Yet quite like the oil curse of Black Gold, its downside is riddled with legal complications that put billions of dollars, as well as the future of generations, at stake. Pakistan is still learning the ropes in this business.
Still, there was never any need for these problems. All the government needed to do was to do the right thing by first taking the whole province on board about its options and intentions. That is, after all, not just a procedural requirement in something so important and that has dragged so long, but also textbook common political sense. And going by the political temperature at this point, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see government spokespersons lash out at anybody who dares question this deal and shower them with all sorts of unsavoury adjectives and at times invectives.
Often it’s not just what is done but also how it’s done that is crucial. This is exactly one of those things. And, all things considered, the present circumstances require prudence, from all parties, way more than recklessness.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022