THE import of liquefied natural gas has hit yet another snag. The government is all set to terminate the process initiated for the selection of a company to supply 400mmcfd of LNG for 15 years to plug the growing gas supply gap. The petroleum minister says the bid committee has done so with a view to making the process transparent in accordance with public-procurement rules. The minister’s summary to the Economic Coordination Committee for the formal termination and restarting of the process has been informed by objections raised by the three competitors, including a Turkish company, against one another. Though the deviations from the procurement rules by the competing firms are said to be minor, these could provide the affected companies an excuse to approach the courts and stall the process for a very long time. This is what had happened in the case of Mashaal, an LNG project in which a foreign company was given a 20-year supply contract. The minister’s logic is hard to dispute. But he should also explain how one bidding company was able to submit its bid after the cut-off date. The whole bidding process is being terminated for the sake of the transparency, delaying LNG imports, so the matter should be thoroughly investigated.
Such abrupt termination can quite often lead to suspicions of an attempt to protect a certain party. Consequently, it is imperative that the matter be looked into because the acceptance of the late submission of one particular company’s bid appears to be the main factor behind the scuttling of the entire process. Although most allegations of irregularities and corruption in various public-procurement projects over the last five years levelled by Transparency International are yet to be proved in court, it is in the government’s own interest to involve independent monitors in the LNG import project — just as it has done in the proposed sale of 3G telecom licences. Fairness in the award of the contract is crucial to early import of LNG to boost the energy supply for industry and other sectors of the economy.