LARKANA: A crowd gathers at a fuel station to get petrol on Monday. Most petrol pumps in Karachi, Hyderabad Lahore, Quetta, and other cities were closed, citing petrol shortage.—PPI
LARKANA: A crowd gathers at a fuel station to get petrol on Monday. Most petrol pumps in Karachi, Hyderabad Lahore, Quetta, and other cities were closed, citing petrol shortage.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: Without any let up in the acute petroleum shortage, the government on Monday blamed ‘mafias’ for creating another crisis and constituted a committee to probe “the element of hoarding and black marketing”.

A senior official of the Petroleum Division told Dawn that total petrol stocks in the country had dropped below 200,000 tonnes and that of diesel to about 160,000 tonnes and were enough for six and four days, respectively. He said the major challenge was the transportation to overcome shortage and even out supplies. A couple of oil ships would beef up supplies over the next three to four days, he added.

The authorities remained engaged on Monday with the refineries and oil marketing companies (OMCs) to address the crisis situation. The Petroleum Division notified an eight member committee to “verify the availability of stocks in the depots of the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) and their supply to the retail outlets”. The committee will be led by Director General Oil Dr Shaf-ur-Rehman Afridi and has representatives of the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), Pakistan State Oil (PSO), district administration, Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) and a member of the Federal Investigation Agency.

As per the notification, the committee will make visits to retail outlets and depots of OMCs and refineries to monitor supply and availability of petroleum products. “If any OMC is found to be hoarding petroleum products then the Committee would submit its findings to the relevant authority for appropriate action which may lead to cancellation of their marketing license.”

Oil supplies continuing, says industry

The committee appeared to be a futile exercise, according to one senior official, since Ogra was separately verifying stock position and was now in advance stage of show cause proceedings against at least six OMCs. He said that except for one or two members, the role of most of the members of the committee should in fact be examined in run up to the full blown crisis.

After a meeting with the representatives of the oil industry, Energy Minister Omar Ayub Khan blamed unknown mafias for the petroleum crisis. In his policy statement that he volunteered in the National Assembly, the minister said the government was fighting a war against mafias and shortage of petrol was also an outcome of this war.

He said some people tried to create an artificial shortage as the government has reduced petrol prices, adding that five per cent of petrol pumps were responsible for artificial shortage, Khan said.

“The government was well aware that the mafia would react to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s fight against mafias and they would react but the government would break their strength” the minister added.

He appealed that consumers should avoid panic buying as stocks for ten days were available in the country and two more ships of 65,000 tonnes were in the process of berthing or unloading at ports.

However, an official statement quoted the energy minister earlier expressing “his deep concern over the petrol shortage across the country due to artificial shortage by some OMCs and/or their dealers for profit maximisation that had resulted in shortages/dry outs having an adverse impact on the lives of the general public”.

The meeting decided that OMCs shall not be allowed to ration supplies of petroleum products to retail outlets and the government will take strict action against the dealers involved in overcharging and hoarding.

The meeting also decided that ‘OMCs will not be allowed to cancel or defer their planned cargoes for June 2020’.

Refineries were directed to produce their committed volume of petroleum products while OMCs were directed to move petrol from Karachi ports to main consumption centres immediately.

The statement said that licences of OMCs will be cancelled by the regulator if anyone was found negligent. The OMCs were also directed to ensure additional supplies to Malakand, Faisalabad and Hyderabad divisions where most of the pumps had gone dry. The OMCs were also directed to ensure sufficient stocks of petrol as well as line up imports and deploy vigilance teams in the field to verify available stocks at their depots and retail outlets.

The meeting also called for the proactive and appropriate actions jointly by the Petroleum Division, Ogra, and all relevant stakeholders, including the provincial governments to normalise the fuel supply situation across the country.

Meanwhile the Oil Companies Advisory Council in a written statement said that current stocks of petrol were continuously being replenished by OMCs from supplies being made available through local refineries production and regular arrival of vessels carrying imported petrol.

An abnormally higher demand of around 850,000 tonnes of petrol was being met, the OCAC said.

The current sales of petrol in the country are exceptionally high (50pc growth) due to the easing of Covid-19 lockdown in past few weeks (causing depletion of stocks) and low price of the product, the statement added.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020

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