Homework not done
THE Iran-Pakistan pipeline is back in the news. The federal cabinet has ratified the deal that, the petroleum minister says, had previously been “initialled”. Great news for an energy-starved country? Not so fast. According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, “a committee comprising ministers for finance, law and justice, petroleum and natural resources and the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan has been constituted to “further analyse the project.” The devil could lie in that small detail — death, or interminable delay. As the worst gas shortages in the country’s history begin to ease with the approach of spring, the government appears to have belatedly woken up to the need to deliver on the promises it keeps making. As ever, the results are mixed. On Tuesday, the government scrapped the tenders for the import of liquefied natural gas after objections were raised concerning the technical compliance of two of the three bidders. The immediate question: were the errors unavoidable given the complex nature of such bidding processes or was the supervision lax and ineffective?
Essentially, the country faces two, interrelated crises: of gas availability and of gas allocation. The availability question can only be addressed by further supplies, in the near term almost certainly by imported gas rather than by immediately finding and tapping the country’s potential gas reserves. But since last summer, when the petroleum minister announced a new policy, nothing much has happened on that front. Welcome as the IP pipeline would be, Pakistan still does not appear to have done its homework to see the project through in a timely manner. Analysing a project is well and good, but this government’s credibility when it comes to delivering on mega projects is low and the IP pipeline may not be any different. Then there is the matter of taking on the various mafias that have used political influence to cling on to their shares of depleting supplies. De-prioritising CNG should have been done much, much earlier — but it wasn’t, and even now it is far from clear if the government has the resolve to carry out its own plan.