Statistics indicate that Pakistan’s oil import bill amounts to US $15 billion, while only 30 percent of consumption in the country is subsidized by domestic production and refining. We must consider ourselves fortunate that prospects for finding new deposits of oil and gas are so encouraging, but this is where the good news ends. I was recently discussing the issues plaguing foreign oil companies working in Pakistan with some guests (from the oil and gas industry) at a wedding reception. Being someone with little exposure in this area, my questions were at times basic, but they brought out some interesting and alarming facts.

Where on the one hand, the Government talks of encouraging foreign investment and reducing oil imports, the body language of people heading the award of Oil Concessions leaves one with the impression that Pakistan has enough oil for its needs and is in no hurry to encourage foreign oil exploration companies to come to the country. This leaves potential oil and gas investors in a state of confusion and uncertainty as to the feasibility of coming to Pakistan.

Having an understanding of how our corrupt system works, I can see what is actually happening in government departments that are responsible for promoting foreign investment particularly in the oil and gas sector. The officials here are seeking to secure their personal gain, while relegating national interest to the back burner. If this is really happening, then it is nothing short of treason and must be ruthlessly probed and punished.

The oil and gas story reminds me of another tale showcasing how vested interests deprives the country of what can be an engine of growth. Many years ago, the owner of a technology empire based in the UK decided to bring part of his assets to the country of his origin and invest them in setting up a modern telecommunication network. His logic in doing so was simple – he claimed that he was where he was because of Pakistan and therefore was obligated to recycle what he had earned into his native economy, while bringing in a modern business culture. This individual spent thousands of pounds in travelling between UK and Islamabad only to be frustrated by bureaucratic mindsets. At every step, he was blocked by people who insisted on living in the ‘copper age’ or perhaps found the change of culture in conflict with their personal needs. Needless to say that this son of the soil decided to withdraw his proposal and invest some place else where he would be facilitated and welcomed.

In another case narrated to me by none other than the aggrieved party himself, efforts to introduce creativity, accountability and best corporate practices in the tourism department were thwarted, not by security threats (as this happened before such an environment had materialized), but by an ignorantly apathetical ministry, which failed to understand that the concept of attracting visitors had a much wider canvas than what was generally perceived. It was a foregone conclusion that the gentleman I was talking to and who was consistently stalked by bureaucratic hurdles and corruption, resigned his position.

Even if the government departments responsible for attracting and securing foreign investment shed their corrupt and outdated bureaucratic handling of would be investors, the prevailing law and order situation in the country is enough to deter anyone to put his money here. There is however, one area wherein foreign investment is likely to come in spite of the risks involved and that is the Oil and Gas Sector. This so because of the presence of rich deposits of oil, condensate and natural gas in Pakistan and high revenue generation from their extraction and processing. Regretfully, this golden window of opportunity is likely to be missed if government functionaries continue to indirectly discourage foreign oil companies. Unless the Ministry in charge and the Prime Minister himself takes notice of what is happening, it is more than likely that Pakistan will continue importing natural fuels and miss the opportunity for a great economic turnaround.

The writer is a freelance columnist