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Electricity cauldron

The PPP-led coalition government in particular was shown the door by the electorate because of its abysmal failure to provide uninterrupted electricity at affordable rates. PML (N) made tall claims while campaigning for votes on this front. People overwhelmingly voted for them as they believed they had a better team for delivery. Once the votes had been counted, the PML (N) leadership with all seriousness began to focus on this issue. People were told that circular debt had to be paid off to get the existing generating units to function at optimum levels. Rs 503 billion as of May 31, 2013 had to be arranged by August 10 by the Federal government. And, now it is claimed that over 15,000 MW is being generated but people do not seem to be convinced and are still agitating against loadshedding.

People are now being told what was not in the election campaign narrative of the PML(N); that for blackouts/brownouts to end their electricity tariff would need to be doubled to absorb the real cost of power generation, transmission and distribution. And, once the fuel-mix for power generation gets into the right balance, the tariff will come down. People do not buy this argument and are angry as the politicians who lost in the elections are laughing at the simpletons who failed to realise that PML (N) in fact was making hollow promises.

Mass media is always the darling of politicians when they are in opposition and is accused by the government of creating unnecessary hype on non-issues. One of the prime functions of the media is to perform the job of a mirror to reflect an image and critically but objectively analyse the state of affairs. The media is doing hardly anything different from what it was doing during the Musharraf era and the PPP era. So its role remains largely unchanged. It is the politicians who changed chairs depending on the election outcomes. Therefore, it is the politicians whose views on issues greatly differ - depending on which side of the aisle they occupy - and so does their opinion of the media. However, it is clear that the PML (N) is trying in earnest and indeed appears to be endeavouring to tackle the power loadshedding menace that the nation is undergoing. Some sceptics are, however of the opinion that the system needs an overhaul which is beyond the capacity of the existing lot to undertake. Pouring money in drips and drops or in one go from the budget has not been the answer yet. Similarly, changing heads of Discos and catching a few thieves will not be enough. Giving temporary charge to bureaucrats and removing professionals is not the answer. It is the minions in Ministry of Water and Power who have been at loggerheads with the baboos at the Ministry of Finance. Their tussle has hurt the country thus far. Elected politicians at the helm are expected to resolve this battle for the turf. Economic imperatives must have a clear precedence over political expediency.

PML (N) had in its election manifesto committed to creating a Ministry of Energy, through a merger of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources with Ministry of Water and Power. This new entity was to be responsible for fuel supply to the power sector as well as oversight over generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. This was the first step and an election commitment. It has not been met. Handing over Discos to provinces has not been done. Decentralisation has not happened. Provinces are not involved. Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, is very much in the loop while other Chief Ministers are not. Is this the correct or desirable approach to governing a federal set-up? Power crisis is a national socio-economic issue. Help from provincial governments is needed to manage expectations of people. Input from all stakeholders is essential for a better informed policy. Since short-term steps would need to be supplemented by medium- and long-term measures - before the state is able to universalise electricity at affordable rates - both the government as well as the government-in-waiting (the opposition) need to provide a united leadership to manage people's expectations. Spending time and energy to catch people for past mistakes and blaming others for past inactions would not help overcome the shortages that will continue to haunt the people for quite some time.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013


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Banking Review 2014

Foreign Debt $61.805bn
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