Tabish Gauhar limits his role up to advisory level

The News

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Power and Petroleum Tabish Gauhar has decided to squeeze his role up to giving his advice as a technocrat to the government for policy level decisions and energy sector reforms. He also started avoiding attending crucial meetings held on the operational level.

According to the top sources at the Energy Ministry, Tabish Gauhar, if asked to tender resignation, would be only because of his technical advice on the North-South Gas Pipeline, which has been renamed as Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSPG). The sources close to the SAPM argued that Gauhar recently attracted a lot of resentment both from the PM’s Office and ‘powerful circles’ on his perpetual opposition to the PSGP project being built with the help of Russia. “In addition, Gauhar is also not in the good books of a lobby of some influential ministers for reasons known to them.”

Powerful circles want Russia to become a part of the PSGP project, which will help develop strategic partnership in other areas of the economy also, keeping in view the new developments taking place on the geo-political horizon.

They said that Tabish is of the view that he is the SAPM on Power and Petroleum and being a technocrat, he is supposed to give his pure technical advice to the government, putting aside the country’s geo strategic interest. “Tabish still considers an alternate pipeline with 42 inches diameter with the usage of GIDC amount of Rs321 billion, keeping in view the next 10-15 years gas demand from the load center Punjab. He also considers his ‘principled stance’ as the best one that building a pipeline for LNG transportation on local level will be completed on time at a lower cost,” top sources said.

This can be gauged by the fact that SAPM Tabish Gauhar wrote a four-page letter written on July 23 to Energy Minister Hammad Azhar with the headline ‘Beyond the fire-fighting: proposed strategic work streams in the energy sector’, highlighting the need to focus on holistic and structural reforms to put the energy sector on a sustainable path to recovery in the next year or two. “There is no response so far given by Hammad Azhar to Tabish Gauhar on his letter.”

Tabish Gauhar in the letter again reiterates his viewpoint on North-South gas pipeline, saying that in his “humble opinion” this gas pipeline project should be financed by the Rs321 billion GIDC funds already raised from the public for this very purpose…and not from third party debt & equity that will add on to the gas consumer bill. Simply put, the people of Pakistan shouldn’t be paying twice for the same asset and by giving veto right to the Russians on design and construction on Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline, it is almost inevitable that they’d opt for the larger diameter (56 inch) pipe that our Sui companies have no track record of building. Whilst according to local analysis, the government could meet the projected gas demand for the next 10-15 years with a relatively smaller (42-inch) diameter pipeline at a potentially lower upfront project cost (savings of up to $500 million) and quicker timeline by 2023. He claimed that the PSGP will be completed by 2024, saying there is need to make substantive headway with the Russian consortium in the next couple of months on this additional Karachi to Lahore gas pipeline, which is of critical importance to Pakistan’s energy security.

Hammad Azhar is for the PSGP project with partnership of Russia, but Tabish Gauhar is against it. The SAPM has not been part of the Pak-Russian talks held on July 12-15 but Azhar addressed the joint presser after talks on gas pipeline.

Top sources also said the Special Assistant always becomes the first-ever causality whenever there is any kind of crisis arguing that the ex-SAPM on mining and power Shahzad Qasim was asked to quit and likewise former SAPM Nadeem Babar was also asked to leave the office in the wake of petrol crisis that hit the country in June in 2020 for 90 days and FIA will complete the forensic audit within three months. The sources say that in the latest development, the sub-committee of FIA has asked for 20-year record of oil marketing companies which will be submitted to AGPR, FIA, OGRA, Senate and NA Committee on Petroleum. The OMCs are tired of endless processing of submitting answers more and more.

Gauhar joined the government, according to the sources, on honorary basis in the wake of inspiration by Prime Minister Imran Khan and would continue to give his input on energy sector reforms and policies and will not be part of any meeting to be held on operational level issues. However, the responsibility will rest with the government functionaries and energy minister to implement the reforms and dispose of the operational level issues.

Tabish, according to the sources, also came under fire from main cabinet members in the CCOE on the dry docking issue of FSRU at the Engro Terminal. In that particular CCOE meeting on the insistence of Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen, an inquiry was ordered headed by railways minister Azam Swati. This infuriated the top notches of the energy ministry and the prime minister had to intervene and ask Federal Minister Planning and Special Initiatives Asad Umar and Marine Minister Ali Zaidi not to interfere in the energy ministry’s affairs. Hammad Azhar and SAPM Tabish had met the PM and complained about the perpetual interference of CCOE members.

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