ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has challenged the government ministers to have a live debate with him on television on the issues of alleged corruption in LNG contracts and power projects set up during the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Speaking at a news conference at the National Press Club here on Tuesday, Mr Abbasi refuted the allegations levelled by Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry that the LNG terminal contracts had been given at exorbitant rates and these showed that there were some underhand deals.
“I am ready to have a live debate on TV at just one hour’s notice. If I fail to prove my claims, put me in jail. Otherwise Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Fawad Chaudhry will (have to) go to jail,” the PML-N leader said.
Flanked by PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and Senator Musaddiq Malik, Mr Abbasi said he took the responsibility of each and every action taken by him as prime minister and was ready to have a debate on the same at any forum.
Briefing reporters after a meeting of the federal cabinet on Oct 19, the petroleum and information ministers had alleged that the country’s economy was under tremendous stress because of the two LNG terminal contracts signed by the previous PML-N government in “frustration, haphazard manner and with malevolence”.
The petroleum minister had said the cabinet had decided to renegotiate the contracts with terminal operators as a first step, adding that the contracts carried clauses that allowed “revisit with mutual consent”, otherwise the government would trigger other options. He said the agreement with Qatar had been under investigation by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other institutions, alleging that the LNG contracts had been given to two business groups at “exorbitant rates of unprecedented levels and showed there were some underhand deals”.
Similarly, the information minister at a news conference on Oct 17 had put the blame on the PML-N government for “setting up costly power projects” in the country and announced that the government had decided to carry out an audit of all power plants set up during the last five years.
Former prime minister Abbasi claimed that Pakistan had set up the cheapest LNG terminals in the world. He said a complete record of the LNG agreement with Qatar was available and the issue had also been discussed in parliament. He said that if the PTI government wanted to renegotiate the LNG deals, it could do it.
He was of the view that 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.
He said that 3,600 megawatts of electricity were being produced in the country through LNG plants, including those run by some of the ministers of the present government, which were producing electricity at Rs5 per unit cheaper than furnace oil.
Mr Abbasi said Pakistan was the world’s second largest importer of furnace oil after China, but during the tenure of his government there was zero import of furnace oil in November last year. The import, he said, again began during the caretaker set-up.
He also ridiculed the information minister’s claim that Pakistan was producing costly electricity because of the expensive power projects set up by the previous government. He said it was due to these projects that Pakistan would continue to get the cheapest electricity in the world for the next 15 years.
Mr Abbasi said that a number of power projects, including the Thar coal power plant, were in progress and these would be completed in the next two to three years. He said the Bhasha dam project was not facing any financial hurdles. Rather, he said, the main issue was lack of political commitment and harmony among the provinces.
He also criticised the PTI government for making the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor “controversial”. He denied 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 solved by sending him and his former 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 as they were not armed with even the basic knowledge of economic issues being faced by the country.
Asked if the ministers did not accept his challenge of live debate, Mr Abbasi, who won the National Assembly seat from Lahore in a recent by-election, said he would use the forum of parliament to present his viewpoint if the ministers did not have the courage to face him.
He also refuted the PTI ministers’ allegation that the PML-N government had emptied the national exchequer and said that when the PML-N government completed its term on May 31, there was $16 billion in foreign exchange reserves and this figure could be verified from the State Bank of Pakistan.
In response to a question, he regretted that despite ruling the country for 10 years, the two PPP and PML-N governments failed to abolish the black accountability laws introduced by military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2018
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