Shahid Khaqan Abbasi challenges government ministers to live television debate

Oct 23 2018


PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi defending decisions taken by the PML-N government. —Photo provided by author
PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi defending decisions taken by the PML-N government. —Photo provided by author

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has challenged government ministers to have a live debate with him on television over the issue of alleged corruption in LNG deals and power projects set up during the PML-N government's tenure.

Speaking at a news conference at National Press Club in Islamabad on Tuesday, Abbasi refuted the allegations of Federal Minister for Petroleum Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry that the PML-N government had set up costly projects due to which they would now have to increase the power tariff.

The allegations the former prime minister was referring to were made on October 19 during a news conference following a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan. In the conference, the petroleum minister had discussed the LNG agreements signed by the PML-N government: a gas supply deal with Qatar and two LNG re-gasification terminals with two local business groups.

“Pakistan economy is under tremendous stress because of these two contracts (of LNG terminals) that were signed in frustration, haphazard manner and with malevolence,” he had said.

Ghulam Sarwar said the two LNG terminal contracts were given to two business groups — Engro and Pakistan Gas Port — at “exorbitant rates of unprecedented levels and show there were some underhand deals”.

Flanked by PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and PML-N Senator Musaddiq Malik today, Abbasi declared that he owned each and every decision taken by him as the prime minister and is ready to have a debate on the same at any forum.

"I am ready to have a live debate on TV at just one hour's notice. If I fail to prove my claims, I'm prepared to go to jail. Otherwise (petroleum minister) Ghulam Sarwar Khan and (information minister) Fawad Chaudhry will have to go to jail", he said, challenging the two ministers.

Abbasi claimed that Pakistan had set up the cheapest LNG terminals in the world. He said that a complete record of the LNG agreement with Qatar was available and it had already been discussed in the parliament.

He said had there been no LNG in the country, the energy crisis would not have been resolved. He said the country was making huge savings through the production of electricity from LNG instead of furnace oil.

The former premier also ridiculed the information minister's claim that Pakistan was producing costly electricity due to the expensive power projects set up by the previous government. He said that it was due to these projects Pakistan would continue to get the cheapest electricity in the world for the next 15 years.

He said a number of power projects, including the Thar coal power project, were in progress which would be completed in the next two to three years.

Abbasi said that the Bhasha Dam project was not facing any financial hurdles. Rather, he said, the main issue was that of political commitment.

He also criticised the PTI government for making the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) "controversial". He denied charges that China was providing loans on high interest rates, and said the average cost of Chinese loans was 2.4 per cent and these loans were payable in 20 to 25 years.

The PML-N leader proclaimed that if Pakistan's problems could be resolved by sending him and his cabinet members to jail, then they were ready for it.

He said there was in fact a need to send the "incompetent ministers " of the present government to jail, who he said were not armed with even the basic knowledge of the economic issues the country is faced with despite attending three Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) meetings.

Responding to a question, he said he would use the forum of the parliament to present his viewpoint. He also vehemently denied the PTI's charge that the PML-N had left an empty exchequer.

He said when the PML-N government completed its term on May 31, there were $16 billion in foreign exchange reserves in the country.