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In the democratic landscape, party manifestos serve as compasses guiding voters through the intricate web of promises and policy directions. This article delves into the multifaceted significance of party manifestos in a democratic system, emphasizing their role in informing voters, ensuring accountability, shaping policy, promoting transparency, fostering public debate, and guiding the governance of a nation.

With the impending general elections scheduled for February 8 in Pakistan, our focus shifts to a comparative examination of the manifestos put forth by three key political players: PPP, PML-N, and PTI. Of particular concern is how each party addresses the pressing issues within Pakistan’s oil and gas sector, a linchpin in the nation’s socio-economic development, with a spotlight on the escalating circular debt crisis.

The PPP manifesto unfolds a visionary narrative through its ‘Ten Pledges’, with a specific commitment to sustainable energy solutions. Under Pledge number 3, titled Green New Deal, a promise has been made to provide sustainable solutions to the energy crisis by providing electricity through indigenous sources and renewables. It also mentions setting up of green energy parks in the country to provide off-grid electricity to communities. It also promises free electricity up to 300 units through ‘solar generation funded through carbon credits’. There is no specific mention of oil and gas related issues nor challenges like gas sector circular debt, which is retarding the economic potential of the country.

In contrast, the PML-N manifesto meticulously dissects the energy challenges, presenting a comprehensive roadmap titled “Energise Pakistan: Brown to Green - A Pathway to Security and Sustainability.” This roadmap spans oil and gas production, refining, transmission, and distribution, proposing measures such as international partnerships, incentivising renewable energy production, and addressing circular debt through nuanced pricing mechanisms.

It offers following reform measures to control gas sector circular debt permanently by establishing a uniform blended price for all gas (including NG, low BTU gas and RLNG), while ensuring affordability for the poor and competitiveness of industrial and agricultural sectors purely through pricing mechanisms; Redirect natural gas (wellhead) for electricity generation to the most efficient gas/LNG-based power plants in order to significantly reduce the generation cost of electricity; Gradually move toward electrification of space heating, waterheating and cooking, commensurate with the decrease in price of power generation through natural gas allocation to efficient power plants; digitise the Ministry of Petroleum, DGPC and Ogra offices toward minimising discretion/human intervention in approval processes and enhancing transparency; Deregulate gas distribution companies (SNGPL and SSGC)toward a competitive market place.

PTI’s manifesto related to energy sector reforms aim to create a more efficient, self-reliant, and environmentally sustainable energy sector for Pakistan’s growing economy and population. The reform strategy is built on several key themes, starting with the restructuring of the legal, regulatory, and governance framework. This involves integrating the Power and Petroleum Divisions into the Ministry of Energy, unifying energy regulators, and developing an Integrated Energy Plan modelled on the IEA’s World Energy Model. The plan emphasizes transparency, merit-based appointments, and capacity building within the energy sector institutions.

Under the overarching National Energy Policy, the manifesto focuses on exploration and production, oil refining, power, and more. Deregulation is a key aspect, with strict enforcement of energy efficiency standards and a roadmap for complete sector deregulation. The rationalization of energy prices involves establishing a unified framework based on heating values and introducing carbon taxes to account for environmental costs. The plan includes efforts for indigenization of energy supply, privatisation of public sector energy companies, and the electrification of energy use, promoting public transport electrification and solarisation of tube wells.

In oil and gas exploration, the manifesto proposes regular bidding rounds, revival of the block award process, streamlined regulatory approvals, and improved tight gas pricing. The party also plans to privatize Distribution Companies (Discos) and encourages the electrification of public transport and two-wheelers.

In the gas distribution sector, the PTI manifesto aims to rationalize consumer-end tariffs, redefine the pricing framework based on market dynamics, and undertake corporate restructuring and privatization. The party also focuses on expanding gas import and storage infrastructure, developing a coal-to-gas policy, and enforcing laws against gas theft.

For oil refining, the manifesto emphasises a comprehensive analysis and planning approach, including the modernization of existing refineries based on detailed assessments of technical and financial capabilities. An integrated energy forecasting model will guide long-term demand forecasts, considering macroeconomic projections and energy transition policies. PTI’s strategy reflects a holistic vision for the energy sector, balancing efficiency, sustainability, and self-reliance.

While all three parties demonstrate a commitment to tackling Pakistan’s energy challenges, the litmus test lies in the practical implementation of these proposed measures. With the gas sector’s circular debt surpassing the 3 trillion rupees, the urgency to address this issue becomes paramount for sustainable economic growth.

As voters gear up for the upcoming elections, their scrutiny will extend beyond the promises outlined in these manifestos to the parties’ ability to translate rhetoric into tangible actions, steering Pakistan toward energy security and economic prosperity.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Sajid Mehmood Qazi

The writer is a civil servant with deep interest in the oil and gas sector


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