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Govt hints at another hike in fuel prices

Miftah’s remarks along with rumours of fuel shortage trigger panic buying in major cities

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Tuesday hinted at increasing the prices of petroleum products yet again.

He was addressing a pre-budget seminar in Islamabad. The remarks along with rumours of a shortage of fuel triggered panic buying across major cities, causing long queues at petrol pumps amid sweltering weather.

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The panic prompted the government and relevant bodies to issue immediate clarifications and to announce that there was currently no plan to increase prices, assuring that there was no shortage of fuel.

“In the pre-budget seminar I never even spoke about petroleum prices. Channels running these tickers are doing a disservice to their viewers. There will be no increase in prices today and there is no summary or plan to raise prices,” the finance minister tweeted in the evening.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb refuted the rumours circulating in different sections of the media about another raise in the prices of petroleum products. The minister, in a tweet, said that the speculations about the increase were “absolutely false”.

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“Do not pay heed to such rumours,” she appealed to the media and the public. “There is no shortage of petroleum products in the country. Avoid spreading rumours.”

Earlier in the day, the finance minister said that the economy was under much stress due to the subsidy given by the previous PTI government on petroleum products.

“Our debts have increased significantly and there is a primary deficit of Rs1,300 billion. When we took over, there was a budget deficit of Rs5,600 billion.”

Taking a dig at the former government, he said that the PTI gave the subsidy contrary to the IMF agreement. “If the incumbent government had followed the agreement, the price of petrol would have reached Rs300 per litre,” he maintained.

He further added that around 200 million people have gone below the poverty line during the last four years. “The country is passing through difficult times, but we will overcome problems.” He said that former energy minister and PTI leader Hamad Azhar had written a letter to Russia, requesting the latter to provide oil to Pakistan. “Russia did not respond to that request,” he said, adding that only wheat was mentioned in the agreement with Russia.

He went on to say that the country needed $41 billion dollars in the next 12 months, adding that he was “very confident” about it happening.

“We have to pay back $21bn in the next year. I am guessing that the outside limit of the current account deficit will be $12bn […] I think that we should have reserves of at least three months […] So we need $41bn over the next 12 months and I think it will happen,” he said, adding that he was “very confident”, without elaborating further.

He said that the Shehbaz Sharif government had re-engaged with the IMF. “We talked to them and we are very, very confident that we will soon have an agreement with the IMF. We are very, very confident of that.”

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