The Supreme Court of Pakistan, on Friday, ordered the national anti-graft body to hold an inquiry into the transparency of the multi-billion deal the PML-N led government struck with Qatar for import of liquefied petroleum gas to overcome energy shortages.
In contrast to Friday’s observations of the top court, there have been reports that the country saved some $600 million through the 10-year deal by employing maneuvering tactics and pitting top buyers against each other.
Former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who struck the deal as Minister of Petroleum in 2016, has gone on record to declare the agreement as the best in the world.
A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar heard a suo motu case regarding unjustified taxes being levied on consumers on gas and oil.
During the hearing, the top judge remarked that there has been a discussion in the public about lack of transparency in the LNG import deal.
The court ordered the board of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) to submit a report on LNG contracts within 10 days and explain whether there was transparency in the agreements with Qatar. During the hearing, the court issued directives to Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan to appear before it immediately. Later the minister turned up and joined the proceedings of the court.
The top judge, while addressing the minister standing at the court rostrum, said: “You should work day and night and eliminate corruption from the ministry.” The minister assured the top court that its directives would be complied with and implemented.
During the hearing, the bench also came down hard on the National Accountability Bureau. The CJP remarked: “NAB did nothing except appearing before the courts”. The top adjudicator remarked that the anti-graft watchdog performance is so dismal that it cannot cite a single graft case it has taken to its logical conclusion.
The court ordered NAB to submit details of inquiries pending with the bureau regarding LNG purchase contracts.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has time and again rubbished the claims of the lack of transparency and charges of kickbacks and corruption. He says that the deal is best one in the entire world.
Despite corruption charges, a recent report by Bloomberg said Pakistan saved more than $600 million over the first 10 years of a natural gas supply deal by pitting some of the world’s biggest sellers against each other.
It quoted a report from the Pakistan State Oil presented in a Senate committee, which sheds light over how the 2016 deal was struck with Qatar, the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas. It also sheds a rare light on such high-stakes energy deals, which are almost exclusively settled behind closed doors and stay hidden from public scrutiny.
As per the report, the maneuvering by Pakistan came after two years of negotiations hit an impasse as Qatar refused to lower its offer price for LNG. So Pakistan sought leverage on the open market in late 2015, publicly seeking 120 cargoes in two large tenders, which brought in bids from suppliers including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc.
While negotiations with Qatargas Operating Co. were under way, the tender was “issued to fetch the maximum number of bidders and best price option,” the presentation said. “The strategy helped bring down prices with Qatargas and saved $610 million.”