ISLAMABAD - Opposition senators walked out yesterday in protest over government’s refusal to disclose the price of imported Liquefied Natural Gas.

They staged their dramatic exit after the petroleum minister failed to explain the pricing formula.

Their protest reflects growing suspicion that corruption may be behind government’s reluctance to disclose how much it is paying. The Petroleum Ministry has so far imported 14 shipments of LNG on spot prices but senators believe that they are much higher than those being paid by neighbouring countries.

“We are not satisfied with the minister’s answers. We want the exact figure. Tell us what is the long term price of LNG and what is spot price,” Senator Ilyas Balour of ANP demanded shortly before the protest.

The government yesterday rejected the allegations and explained that it is currently negotiating a longer-term deal for LNG supply. It will reveal the price agreed once it has been settled, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told senators.

“I cannot make statements on the price of LNG as the government has not signed the contract. We are in the process of signing the long term contact,” he said, concluding the debate. Once negotiations are completed, Pakistan will have the cheapest LNG in Asia and savings would help produce cheaper electricity, he pledged.

The minister said draft deal was currently waiting for approval by the Finance Ministry’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and claimed it would help end the country’s energy crisis.

Natural gas-fired power generation is the cheapest option and would eventually save the government $600 million, he claimed. He suggested that the 14 cargo procurements arranged to date were already detailed in the record of either the Senate or the National Assembly. The Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asked the minister to lay the details of these cargo prices before the house.

Earlier, MQM senator Tahir Mashhadi questioned the delay in disclosing prices and implied that there were unidentified beneficiaries in the arrangement. “Who is beneficiary, why the government is dill delaying the matter?” he asked. There were “no free lunches,” he added.

Later in the session the federal minister for the tribal areas, Lt General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch, told a session that Pakistan accounts for $4 billion in a global illicit market estimated to be worth $490 billion on spurious medicines. China, India, Egypt are the largest producers, he said.

Inspections had found eight per cent of 3200 samples tested were sub-standard or fake. Mushahidullah Khan of PML-N alleged that pharmaceutical companies themselves were involved in the illicit trade and called for a National Accountability Bureau to establish a special cell to investigate it. Shahi Syed cited a report that said that 40 factories manufacturing spurious drugs had been found in Lahore alone.

Later, Secretary Senate announced that the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) would carry out an audit of all local and foreign reconstruction funds following the 2005 earthquake.

89PC NWA, 87PC KHYBER AGENCY CLEARED FROM MILITANTS

Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif informed the Senate that due to Zarb-e-Azb operation 89 pc of North Waziristan, and 87 pc of Khyber Agency areas have been cleared from militants.

Defence Minister gave out the figures in his written reply in Senate session on Tuesday chaired by Raza Rabbani.

The Minister said that the operation would continue until elimination of terrorists and banned outfits financiers.

Khawaja Asif stated that India violated ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary at least 997 times since 2013.

The Minister stated that as many as 36 Pakistanis including Army soldiers have embraced martyrdom while at least 211 were injured.

He said that India violated ceasefire in 2013 at least 464 times.

The Indian unprovoked firing claimed lives of 24 security troops and 74 citizens in 315 incidents in 2014.

In January-September 2015, unprovoked violations by Indian side were 218.