The self-proclaimed crusader against cartel – Nusrat Javed

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Such pain-inflicting farce can only be staged in our luckless country, which never stops projecting itself as one of the most vibrant parliamentary democracies under the sun.

Our “sovereign and duly elected” national assembly has been meeting, almost nonstop, for the past two weeks. On average, it continues to consume at least nine hours of a working day in diligent dissection of budgetary proposals tabled by the Imran government.

Disregarding the ongoing process, which affirms the right of an elected parliament to oversee the fiscal management of a sitting government, an allegedly “autonomous” outfit suddenly announced a record increase in the rates of petroleum products Friday evening.

I sincerely confess for being an incurable idiot by presuming that the lead stars of our number-strong opposition would not let the government proceed with budget passing rituals the day after. With fiery speeches, they would rather compel it to first explain as to why the said price increase was not announced in parliament, where the overall impact of fiscal policies, announced for the next financial year, were being assiduously discussed.
Imagining a rowdy sitting Saturday, I committed the error of forgetting that our opposition had already decided to act by a playbook, discreetly prepared in the Speaker’s chambers some days ago. Thanks to a win-win looking ‘understanding,’ for the first time in Pakistan’s parliamentary history, the opposition had assured the treasury that it would not attempt to impede the fast track passage of the budget, by not pressing for real-time voting on ‘cut motions.’

After abandoning an established right and parliamentary tradition, our opposition was still willing to play the role of a spineless collaborator for creating the illusion that budgetary proposals were thoroughly combed by a ‘dynamic forum,’ the national assembly. The ritual of “cut motions” was adopted for this reason, merely to deliver speeches on relatively “safe” subjects. We have yet to figure out what the opposition would get in return to its obsequious-looking cooperation.
To be fair, some opposition legislators did express annoyance over the price hike, sneakily announced Friday evening. But they were bound to stay focused on the performance of the interior ministry and its various departments like the FIA, as per the terms of agreement that had already reached with the government. The Chair continued to politely check their ‘drift’ and the explosive issue of a record price increase in petroleum products could not be discussed, with the vigor it deserved.

Omar Ayub Khan, the minister in-charge did not blush, even for a second, throughout a very lengthy sitting. With the thick skin of a heartless politician he stood not once but twice to sell the story with an emotion-free face that during “the past 46 days the price of oil had witnessed 112% increase in the global market.” If going by the trend, the Imran government should have at least enforced an increase of 41 Pak Rupees in the price of per liter of petrol. Living up to its reputation of being poor-friendly, it agreed to the increase of “only 25 rupees.”
Implicitly blaming us for being thankless, the minister conveniently forgot so many details of the petrol-connected story. The local and the global media had begun to repeatedly inform the people of Pakistan, since the mid-March of 2020, that oil producers across the globe were finding no buyers. After exhausting their capacity to store, most multi-nationals were literally begging the big scale dealers to pick their produce, without even paying a penny for it.

The stories of the drastic decrease in oil prices stoked the legitimate desire among Pakistanis that the Imran government should move to ensure that they also share the joy of a windfall, which looked doubly delightful during the gloomy times of COVID-19.

After much delay and reluctance, the Imran government finally announced a “historic decrease” in the price of petroleum product somewhere in the middle of April this year. Gradually, however, petrol pumps began to go dry all over the country. Only the government controlled Pakistan State Oil (PSO) kept selling petrol on the price, officially fixed, through its retail outlets. But these outlets get a fixed amount of quota and are just not equipped to meet the aggregate national demand.
Petrol pumps, connected with the supply chains of different Oil Market Companies (OMCs), representing globally famous brands, fast began to go dry. Our so-called mass media, especially the 24/7 channels, preferred to initially ignore and then under-report the agony, millions of Pakistanis continued to endure due to visibly manipulated shortage of petrol. But they could not afford to look “responsible” all the time.

Behaving like a diminutive re-incarnation of Robin Hood, Omar Ayub finally woke up with a roar and began to flood media with boastful statements. Dubbing all the Oil Marketing Companies as profit-extracting mafia, he promised strict and exemplary punishment for its “Dons.” With clownish moves of a real-life Pink Panther, ‘raids’ were then conducted to “recover the covertly stored petrol.” Some fines were also imposed during “the drive against hoarders.

In spite of being completely clueless about a highly complex and complicated business of selling petrol in Pakistan, yours truly had indulged in some legwork. The national assembly was not in session those days. But in my Urdu column for Nawa-i-Waqt, I dared to audaciously predict that by the end-week of June, the supply chain of petrol might get restored with a bang. But it would happen, only if the government agreed to fix the price, OMCs were asking for their product.

The government had eventually acted according to ‘the script’ Friday evening. Yet, Omar Ayub had no moral courage to honestly admit before the national assembly that his ministry had miserably failed to provide petrol on the price it had fixed during the times of a ‘bonanza’ to please the naïve consumers.

The self-proclaimed crusader against the cartel, he had been calling a “mafia,” has surely exposed his limits. He has rather begun to look like a local Don Quixote in the given context. Envy his thick skin and audacity, though. Also acknowledge “good luck” of the Imran government, which continues to look like the ultimate fighter against corruption and mafias, despite losing battles on both these fronts, almost on daily basis.

OMCs have surely won in the end. But now another crisis is seriously brewing, which is set to create unmanageable issues related to food security. Taking advantage of the right of highlighting the grand issue of utmost public concern by pushing ‘cut motions,’ speaker after speaker from rural areas kept worryingly talking about the menace of locust attack during Saturday sitting of the national assembly.

All of them were unanimous in forewarning that massive swarms of the locusts would start entering Pakistan via Gawadar from July 8. The droves would keep encroaching into our country for almost a full week.

The locust does not spare anything that looks green, budding and growing on agricultural lands. Aerial sprays are the most effective means of preventing the possible disaster. Most members of the national assembly found the government miserably ill-equipped in this respect.

Syed Fakhar-e-Imam, the minister for food security, sincerely attempted to spin an assuaging story. He is not in the habit of telling blatant lies to communicate boastful messages. After listening to him with total attention, I would yet not dare to ensure you that the locusts would pass through our lands without causing much damage.