PSO proposes swapping debt for stake in public sector companies

Published May 9, 2024
CEO and Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) Syed Muhammad Taha speaks with Reuters during an interview in Karachi on May 8. — Reuters
CEO and Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) Syed Muhammad Taha speaks with Reuters during an interview in Karachi on May 8. — Reuters

Pakistan State Oil (PSO) said it is in talks with the government on a plan to acquire stakes in public sector energy companies and offset mounting debt it is owed by firms such as the national airline.

Stopping the pile-up of unresolved debt across the country’s power sector, and ultimately settling it, is a top concern of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with which the government will begin talks this month for a new long-term loan deal.

“Everything will be done through competitive bidding and we will participate and if we win, the stakes will be offset against (PSO’s receivables),” said Syed Muhammad Taha, the managing director and chief executive of the state-backed oil marketer.

“That is our proposal and this is under consideration, so we are working with the government,” Taha said in an interview on Wednesday with Reuters.

The government, with a stake of about 25 per cent, is the biggest shareholder of PSO, but private shareholders own the rest. Government officials, including the petroleum and information ministers, did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.

According to the IMF, the total circular debt in Pakistan’s power and gas sectors stood at Rs4.6 trillion, or about 5pc of GDP by June 2023.

Circular debt is a form of public debt that stems partly from failure to pay dues along the power sector chain, starting with consumers and moving to distribution companies, which owe power plants, which then have to pay fuel supplier PSO.

The government is either the biggest shareholder or the outright owner of most of these companies, making it tough to resolve debt as fiscal tightening leaves it strapped for cash.

Among other steps sought by the IMF, the government has raised energy prices to stop the buildup of debt. But the accumulated amount still has to be resolved.

Taha said the IMF reforms helped the sector by boosting creditors’ ability to pay, which will continue to improve.

PSO’s aggregate receivables from government agencies and autonomous bodies stood at Rs499bn, the largest share owed by gas provider Sui Northern Gas, whose largest shareholder is the government.

PSO’s annual report last year said the crisis of owed debt was a serious issue for it.

Taha said PSO had initially floated the idea of acquiring stakes or complete ownership of assets such as power plants in Nandipur in the northern Punjab province and Guddu in southern Sindh, as well as the government-owned holding entity for power generation companies.

It also discussed equity stakes in profitable public sector companies such as the Oil and Gas Development Co (OGDC), he added.

PIA deal

Taha said PSO was also a part of the broader settlement framework to privatise Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which would potentially include a “clean asset swap” and a stake in the airline’s non-core assets, such as property.

The government is putting a stake ranging from 51pc to 100pc in the debt-ridden carrier as part of the public-sector reforms sought by the IMF.

In March, media said the principal alone that PIA owed PSO for fuel supply amounted to roughly Rs15.8bn.

Taha added that he expected modest growth in demand for petroleum products as the economy opens up, thanks to lower interest rates and higher disposable income.

As economic conditions improve, he added, PSO is working with big strategic investors from China and the Middle East to upgrade and expand Pakistan Refinery.

PSO has a network of 3,528 retail outlets in addition to 19 depots, 14 airport refuelling facilities, operations at two seaports and the largest storage capacity of 1.14m tonnes.

Follow Dawn Business on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for insights on business, finance and tech from Pakistan and across the world.

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...