ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Friday came down hard on the government for its ignorance about whether Indians and Israelis could make investment in Pakistan by purchasing the shares of public-sector entities or not.  

Senator Syeda Sughra Imam of PPP, during the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, gave tough time to the officials of the Finance Ministry, State Bank of Pakistan and Privatisation Commission over whether Indians and Israelis could make investment in Pakistan or not. The officials could not properly satisfy the senator and just said, “Religion has nothing to do with business.” The officials were seemingly unconfirmed about inclusion of Israel and India in the list of investment policy. “No such case has so far surfaced, we will, however, check it from Board of Investment,” said Finance Secretary Dr Waqar Masood.

Meanwhile, Privatisation Commission Senior Consultant Asad Rasool said, “In compliance with SECP and international practices, there is no ban on any country to make investment.”

Sughra Imam said, “We are not talking of any religion, but the issue is regarding national interests.” She was of the view that everyone, including Indians and Israelis, could purchase the shares of public-sector entities like OGDCL and PPL.

Earlier, senators showed serious reservations over the petrol crisis prevailing in the country, as they said masses were deprived of the fuel after its prices decreased. “There is no petrol and diesel in the country. What is alternative plan of the government?” asked Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hassani.

Responding to the concerns of the lawmakers on petrol shortage, the finance secretary told the committee that supply chain of the petroleum products had been disrupted, but the situation would improve in next few days. “A ship arrived in Pakistan the other day carrying 50,000 tons of petrol that will improve the supply in few days,” he remarked.

He further said the government had released Rs 17 billion for Pakistan State Oil (PSO), which would help in opening five LCs. The government would provide Rs 27 billion to PSO this month, he added.

The finance secretary said the government would further reduce the prices of petroleum products for the upcoming month of February, besides decreasing the power tariff. However, he did not share the percentage of the amount to be slashed. “The government is reducing the prices of petroleum products in transparent manner. Apart from increasing General Sales Tax (GST) on petroleum products by five percent, the government is passing on full benefit of the declining international oil prices to the masses,” he added.

Dr Waqar Masood explained to the committee that prices of crude oil were decreasing sharply in international market as compared to the prices of petroleum products. “Crude oil prices decreased by 50 percent, but petroleum products prices went down by 30 percent. As Pakistan imports more petroleum products, oil prices have not decreased according to the trend in international market,” he added.

He told the committee that the declining oil prices had not only reduced the inflation rate to four percent in December, but would also help in slashing oil import bill by $3-5 billion during this fiscal year. The current account deficit would also decrease during the ongoing financial year, he added.

Giving details of setbacks in the face of sit-ins and floods, the finance secretary informed the standing committee that economic situation was now under control. The sit-ins initially resulted in inflationary pressure, depreciation in exchange rate and delay in transactions of Sukuk bonds and Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), he observed.

He told the committee that foreign investment had increased by 19 percent during the first half (July to December) of 2014-2015, as it was $545 million against $445 million in the corresponding period of the previous year.

Talking about the IMF programme, Waqar Masood said Pakistan would complete its ongoing programme successfully, which would be the second programme to be completed in the country’s history.

Senator Saleem H Mandviwalla raised the issues of Tuwairqi Steel Mills Limited which is winding up its business from Pakistan due to differences with the government on gas prices. The finance secretary said Tuwairqi Steel Mills Limited was demanding things beyond its agreement with the government that would cost Rs 25 billion to the national kitty in five years.

Waqar Masood said the government had never done figure fudging, adding it only happened in 2000 due to some systematic problem in National Savings Organisation.

The committee unanimously recommended the government to reduce the oil prices according to the decline in the international market. The committee also decided to write a letter to the prime minister to review the performance of National Testing Services as Senator Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hassani alleged NTS was appointing blue-eyed persons in different organisations by neglecting deserving candidates. The committee members also showed concerns over the absence of the finance minister from the committee meeting.