Monday, March 22, 2010

In search of power

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

According to a report, Iran is upset that Pakistan, despite its severe power shortage, hasn’t taken up the former offer for cheap electricity for at least its western regions. While the authorities at Wapda and Pepco may be in a better position to answer why the offer hasn’t been taken up, our own answer is that this all is indicative of the way government – and in particular the bureaucracy – works in Pakistan. For instance, in 2009 right before the advent of summer, the minister for water and power said several times that loadshedding would end within a year and justified his -- now obviously outlandish – claim by saying that the government was tackling the problem in a serious manner. It turned out that the minister was referring to the rental power solution, which in due course of time became mired in controversy. This perception is more or less probably justified given the short-term nature of the solution provided by rental power plants and the exorbitant cost. Besides, the government has not been able to stay away from allegations that have surfaced in the media of certain key members of the government receiving substantial kickbacks.
Iran’s consternation, however, may be partly political since America has of late also tried to offer Pakistan assistance in the energy and power sectors. Washington has suggested that the possibility of nuclear power is being explored with a senior official saying that this issue will be one of the key topics to be covered under the inter-ministerial meeting scheduled to begin in the US capital from tomorrow. Given the nature of the ‘beast’, so to speak, of loadshedding, any help in this regard from any quarter – even if it is from India to provide power to Punjab – should be welcomed, provided of course the pricing is reasonable and doesn’t translate into a significant increase in the average electricity bill. At the same time, serious effort has to be made to bring down transmission and distribution losses for all electricity distribution companies, particularly KESC. Furthermore, headway on the bringing the crisis under control will not be possible until the circular debt issue is resolved as well and that means a determined effort by the federal and provincial governments to pay to Wadpa and its distribution companies they monies owed to them by various departments and public-sector organizations. This figure is over Rs50 billion and its magnitude creates problems for power companies to the extent that they are not able to buy fuel to power their generation plants – and this, not a lack of installed capacity per se, is partly the reason for the power shortages that are afflicting the country and affecting all Pakistanis in a most calamitous way.

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