ISLAMABAD/LAHORE - Within a week after the passage of annual budget 2008-09, a series of mini-budgets has begun as the Government Monday announced 31 per cent increase in gas prices following the substantial hike in the petroleum products on the other day. Contrary to the tall claims of consumer protection, the so-called democratic government of the PPP has empowered the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority to pass on the burden of international crude oil hike on the domestic consumers of petroleum products, in a haphazard manner. During the last meeting of the cabinet the OGRA was asked to change prices of petroleum products as and when required as against the previously in vogue system of fortnightly price review. Ironically, the OGRA even after getting unbridled powers to adjust the domestic prices with tariff of international crude lacks any monitoring mechanism to ensure consumer protection. Therefore the energy consumers are totally at the mercy of international crude oil movements and exploitative and hoarding behaviour of the retailers. In the sequence of the mini-budgets series in the post-budget scenario, Minister In-charge for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shah Mahmood Qureshi Monday announced the gas price increase of 31 per cent as was required by the two gas utilities namely the SSGC and the SNGPL. He also announced, in the same breath, a 33 per cent increase in the price of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). He, however, rushed to add that the increase would not be applicable to first three slabs that according to him constitute ninety-one per cent of domestic consumers. He said the prices had to be increased because of phenomenal hike in oil prices in the international market. However, he gave no reference to the guaranteed rate of return above 17 per cent for the two state-owned gas utilities in addition to rising rate of unaccounted for gas beyond seven per cent. Despite issuing frequent directions the OGRA has proven to be toothless in ensuring reduction in the UFG on part of the two utilities. The Minister on the other hand claimed that even after the latest price increase, the Government would still be subsidizing the gas prices for domestic consumers with Rs 14.3 billion annually. He said a decision had also been taken to convert the rate of gas for ovens from the present commercial to new domestic rates with a view to keeping a check on the price of roti (indigenous form of bread). Qureshi said there would also be no increase in the gas being supplied to fertilizer factories.  He said this was being done despite the fact that under an agreement concluded with Fertilizer factories in 2001, the Government was authorized to increase the gas prices for them by 15 per cent. According to the Minister, the Government has also cleared the entire Rs 286 billion worth of arrears of the Oil Marketing Companies, which would help improve their cash flow position. Minister In-charge for Petroleum and Natural Resources said no increase had been made in the gas pricing for Independent Power Projects with a view to avoiding increase in the cost of power production and electricity bill. He said it had also been decided to increase CNG prices by 33.28 per cent. He said the current CNG price was 31 per cent of the petrol price and after increase it would be at 50 per cent of the supreme petroleum. To a question, the Minister said to provide relief to small Roti Tandoors (ovens) to enable them to provide Roti to the poor masses at affordable prices, it had been decided to split the said consumers into two categories.  First special commercial category of Roti Tandoors with consumption up to 300 cubic meters per month would be billed under domestic tariff regime while the Roti Tandoors exceeding this consumption would be billed in accordance with the other commercial consumers.   Meanwhile, the official sources told TheNation that yet another mini-budget was on the cards as the Government was to adjust the international crude oil price with the domestic electricity rates starting from next month. Therefore, under the latest decision of the Government the electricity consumers would be getting every month bill with a new rate adjusted mostly upward to the international crude oil tariff. Online adds: After increased prices in petroleum products, the new government has just gifted the nation with another surprise, a Rs 13 increase in CNG prices. Ashraf Javed from Lahore adds: The LPG marketing companies have further increased the ex-plant price of Liquefied Petroleum Gas by at least 4 per cent with effect from today (Tuesday)  following a record surge in the petroleum prices, market companies said on Monday. The LPG prices are rising on account of higher input costs, said the LPG Association of Pakistan (LPGAP), a grouping of all LPG marketing companies. "LPG marketing companies are likely to increase ex-plant prices by at least 4 per cent on Tuesday on account of higher input costs, including the latest diesel price-hike which directly impacts primary and secondary LPG transportation costs," said LPGAP Spokesman Fasih Ahmed. "Input costs are also higher now with the introduction of the 5 per cent Petroleum Development Levy and the General Sales Tax increase from 15 per cent to 16 per cent ", he said. "Producer Prices are also expected to increase with effect from July 1, which will, again impact end-consumer prices," he added. He further said that despite the grim situation brought on by reduced supply and higher input costs, it should be appreciated that LPG marketing companies are still not fully passing on their cost increases to end-consumers, who are unable to pay beyond a certain limit for our product," said Ahmed. He said that LPG production in the country has also declined. "There are six LPG production plants where production has fallen," he said, adding that the current daily output is 1,200 metric tonnes as opposed to 1,600 metric tonnes. Ahmed said that LPG marketing companies have been hemorrhaging because of the previous government's malafide interference in the deregulated LPG sector. He said that LPG retail prices would have exceeded Rs 100 per kilogramme had the previous government's policy to equate the prices of locally-produced LPG with Saudi Arabian export prices remained in place. Ahmed also said that LPG retail prices continued to remain "well within the reasonable limits" agreed upon between LPGAP and the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority. LPGAP has also taken strong exception to misleading statements by self-proclaimed stakeholders in the LPG sector. "Specious and misleading statements by persons who have no standing or stake in the LPG sector are extremely regrettable and the Association shall be taking appropriate action against such persons," said Ahmed. "We are not going to allow such persons to mislead the public for their own personal gains." Inflation tsunami likely our staff reporter LAHORE- As an inflation-tsunami is likely to hit the entire country in the coming few weeks following a record surge in the prices of petroleum products, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LGP), the general public, traders, farmers, transporters and motorists have lamented over the hike decision, stressing that the move would make more people to lead life below the poverty-line. It would also multiply unemployment, suicide incidents and poverty in the country besides badly affecting the salaried persons and the lower middle-class. The agriculture and industrial inputs and transport cost will also shoot up, pushing further the prices of food items, domestic utilities, goods and transport fare upward, they added. They were of the view that the continuous stalemate in the prices index caused by bad economy since the last four months is finally telling upon the patience of the people. They also flayed the new govt and said that what positive change in the state of affairs the coalition govt has effected after winning the general elections while the prices are soaring unabated and there was no respite to the hardships being faced by the people. The govt has also badly failed to render any relief to the people, rather their hardships have increased manifold as compared to the situation before the general elections. The petrol and diesel prices, during the last four months, on the average, surged by a whooping 53 per cent, which has multiplied the miseries of the people, particularly in the agriculture and industrial sectors. The businessmen were of the view that the surge in oil prices would badly affect the industry because the cost of doing business would shoot up, consequently hampering the country's exports. It is important to mention here that the petrol price from March 1 until now has soared by 41 per cent, selling at Rs 75.69 and High Speed Diesel surged by 66 per cent at Rs 55 per-litre. Chairman Pakistan Industrialist and Traders Association Front Mian Abuzar Shad while strongly criticizing the hike in the prices of petrol, gas and electricity said that the coalition govt must stop this increase in order to save the industry. 'The poor have been left with no other option but to commit suicide as they are unable to make both ends meet in this era of price and inflation', commented Mukhtar Ahmed, a vendor at Liberty Market. The Labour Party Pakistan said that the present rulers are working on the agenda of oil marketing companies and the World Bank as they are increasing the prices of oil and gas frequently. In a statement issued in this regard, Labour Party Pakistan leader Farooq Tariq said that 31 per cent sudden increase in the prices of kerosene oil and 31 per cent hike in the gas prices in a short span of time have exposed the anti-people policies of the newly elected govt. He said that the present govt was implementing policies of the World Bank and making the life of the people more miserable. Deputy Secretary General Jamaat-e-Islami Fareed Ahmed Piracha said that the present rulers have increased 100 per cent prices of all items during their 100 days of govt. According to him, the petrol, diesel, electricity, Sui Gas, CNG, Ghee, flour, sugar and rice are going beyond the reach of the common man. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation has lamented over the increase in oil prices and said that they would observe Black Day on Tuesday (today) to protest the price-hike. Gulzar Ahmed Chaudhry General Secretary of the Federation said that the govt is multiplying the problems of the people instead of giving any relief to them. He said that the unabated price-hike is creating acute social and psychological problems for the general public who were already badly hit by the inflation. The farmers said that the worst food crisis would hit the country next year as the agriculture inputs prices are increasing and most of the farmers are unable to afford the high cost diesel which they use for the purpose of watering their fields. This would reduce the crop production. The farmers resented the alarming increase in the oil prices and demanded of the govt to announce subsidy for the farmers on the oil prices to save the agri-sector. Meanwhile, the transporters and motorists also protested the sudden increase in the oil and gas prices, asserting that the govt was not interested in solving the problems being faced by the general public. They said that the present govt has badly failed to provide any relief to the poverty- stricken people. PIA increases fares Our Monitoring Desk Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has announced increase in its international flights fares, reported a private TV channel late on Monday. The increase in fares would be applicable from Tuesday (today).   As per new rates, the PIA will charge Rs 25,300 for Dubai , Rs 58,700 for London, Rs 96,800 for New York and 98,550 for Toronto on return ticket. APP adds: PIA alos increased Umra fares up to Rs 15,000 with effect from Tuesday. According to a private TV channel, the Umra fare would now be fixed at Rs 53,061 from Rs 38,200. It may be mentioned that about one week ago PIA had increased fuel adjustment charges in their fares.