SAPM Tabish Gauhar ‘quits’

This is the third resignation by technocrats in the energy sector in a row since the PTI government assumed power. Tabish Gauhar had earlier tendered resignation and went to Dubai in protest because of meddling into the power sector affairs by the-then SAPM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar, but he came back on the intervention of the prime minister on January 12, 2021.

First, SAPM Syed Shahzad Qasim resigned and then SAPM Nadeem Babar was asked to resign because of the petrol crisis. Now SAPM Tabish Gauhar was told to tender resignation on Monday (September 20, 2021) at the Prime Minister’s Office when he was on his way to attend a meeting on power sector issues in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

“In the PM’s office, a powerful minister in the cabinet told Tabish Gauhar that there was no need to attend the meeting, rather submit the resignation with principal secretary of the prime minister. This all has happened as a sudden move,” top sources privy to the development told The News.

Tabish Gauhar was not in the mood to resign as he had officially issued a tour program on September 17. The SAPM, who had earlier limited himself to the advisory role, was upbeat and started taking part in meetings which was quite obvious by his tour program to various DISCOs, NTDC and SNGPL headquarters. As per the program, he met with CEO ISECO and chairman of Board of Directors on September 20 at the ISECO headquarters in Islamabad. As per the program, on September 21 (Tuesday) he was scheduled to visit the PESCO office in Peshawar wherein he was to hold a meeting with CEO ISECO and chairman BoD. He was also scheduled to meet with KP Finance Minister Taimoor Khan Jhagra.

And on September 22, he was scheduled to visit CEO FESCO in Faisalabad and chairman BoD and in the later part of the same day he was also scheduled to visit SNGPL office in Lahore and meet with the managing director of Sui Northern. And in the evening of the same day, ex-SAPM Tabish Gauhar was also scheduled to meet with LESCO CEO and chairman of the Board of Directors. On September 23, he was scheduled to visit the NTDC (National Transmission Dispatch Company) office and its managing director. So the impression that ex-SAPM Tabish Gauhar has resigned is not true, rather he was asked to resign. “This situation may not encourage any technocrat to join as SAPM on Energy particularly when two years of the incumbent government are left. In two years’ time, structural reforms in the energy sector are just like a mission impossible,” a top official source gave his assessment to The News.

In his tweet, Tabish Gauhar claimed after a year of public service, “I’ve decided to call it a day to return to my family. It’s been the privilege of a lifetime to serve the country, to the best of my abilities, in an honorary capacity. I shall remain indebted to the PM for giving me this opportunity.” He also said that “whilst the challenges in the energy sector are manifold, I have no doubt that under the able leadership of Hammad Azhar, the MOE team will continue to stay the course on structural reforms. May Allah continue to bless Pakistan, Ameen.”

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar tweeted: “It was a privilege to work closely with Tabish. We benefited greatly from his input and professionalism. He remained away from his family for a whole year to serve his country. We thank him and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavours.”

However, some cabinet members told The News that Tabish Gauhar was not giving the ownership to the government-supported projects and initiatives such as Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline, and advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project. One of the ministers said that Tabish had emerged in the government circles as a negative person as he was found opposing every project of the government. Tabish was also observed by the government circles in unnecessarily opposing K-Electric. In the latest development in the CCOE meeting, he pitched the summary asking for incentives on incremental use of electricity by domestic and commercial consumers during the coming winter season in all Discos except K-Electric. It was taken negatively by the CCOE members, who asked Tabish Gauhar as to why he had not included the consumers of K-Electric in the incentive package. Then SAPM in the upgraded summary included the KE consumers also in the incentives package.

In the CCOE meeting held on September 13, 2021, five cabinet members of PTI gave a tough time to Tabish Gauhar on refinery policy 2021 and outright refused to buy his assertions on upfront incentives for the local refineries with one adviser on commerce and textiles pointing out that one of the private large refineries had installed the old plant of 1920 and it had retrofitted it with the amount of the deemed duty that was given in the past. Interestingly, Energy Minister Hammad Azhar was also among those ministers who have refused to subscribe the viewpoint of Gauhar, smelling a rat in the demand of upfront incentives.

Azhar also joined the club of those ministers in the CCOE meeting held on September 13 who refused to give ownership to the tricky portion of proposed oil refinery 2021 policy dealing with upfront incentives. Some of the important ministers argued: “If he avoids supporting government-supported projects, then why is he a part of the government? Certainly for some purposes, such as seeking huge incentives like tariff protection (deemed duty) for 6 years.”

Coming to the ADB-funded project of Advanced Metering Infrastructure which the PTI government wants to implement with the aim to reduce electricity theft and improve recovery through accurate billing, keeping in view the real time data, Tabish Gauhar opposed the project arguing that its scope should be enhanced and executed under the CPEC umbrella. However, the ADB, which gave it a $400 million loan for this pilot project, which is the first to be installed in LESCO and IESCO, has refused to give the loan if the scope of the project was changed.

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