Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has made a profound observation with regard to criticality of electricity on election outcomes. According to him, PML-N can only win the next election if it can provide electricity to people. Otherwise, the going will get tougher. That PML(Q) and PPP lost elections in 2008 and 2013, respectively, because of woeful energy shortages is a strong case in point. One would concede that some other factors also contributed to their downfall. But electricity dominated voters’ agenda. Providing electricity at low voltage is no answer. Domestic consumers need uninterrupted electricity supply at required volts to run electricity appliances efficiently.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is cognisant of this and is indeed pressing his team to sort out this vital and cumbersome issue. His government not only has to play catch up, in terms of generation, transmission and distribution but also has to contend with a host of other issues which are in the realm of legal, financial as well as technical. It is being touted that “Privatisation” may be an answer to this predicament. But we need to understand that in a democracy – public interest needs to be paramount. The template for privatisation of transmission and distribution or for that matter generation companies needs to be iron-clad with time-lines for investment since it takes a year or so even after placement of an order for manufacturing and three to four years for installation and implementation. This is in addition to the time taken to get a financial close for major projects that are needed for us to first play catch up; be neck-to-neck and then also cater for the future. There was no major investment in this field in the last three to four years. Rental power was touted as a stop gap arrangement. However, the issue of cost and kickbacks made it controversial.
Do we have the expertise for all this in the country? If not; we must not hesitate to obtain outside help. There are lessons one can learn from past experience. Asian Development Bank was indeed critical of rental power. The sell-off of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation to a private entity has been a difficult experience for both the seller and the buyer. The present management has done a remarkable job in overcoming labour issues. But financial problems faced by K-Electric in obtaining payment of receivables from government entities have become increasingly difficult. Even large industrial consumers have had problems and pending issues need to be settled in court. A way out has to be worked out to streamline the system. It has resulted in holding back of investment in generation committed by K-Electric. In turn, also K-Electric has had problems with its energy suppliers such as Sui Southern Gas Company whose outstandings have soared to Rs 68 billion. SSGC also owes money to gas suppliers to the tune of Rs 52 billion. Although, it’s a holy mess, it can be sorted out if one recognises and accepts that there can be ‘no free lunch’.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have been assured that it is possible to have electricity – uninterrupted – at Iftar, Sehr and Taraveeh by diverting supply from industrial feeders to domestic feeders. Transformers can heat up, lines can trip, and host of other problems can also arise. The infrastructure that is required for the additional load, at these vital times appears to be inadequate since consumers continue to protest and complain.
It is now being said that the domestic demand had peaked to 21,000MW. But our maximum generation capacity is around 17,000MW. Thus this gap between generation and demand shall persist. Add to that line losses in transmission and distribution. One cannot replicate industrial load with domestic/residential load. You have large transformers and sub-stations in industrial zone; while one can see a long queue of pole-mounted transformers of smaller size in residential areas. Thus the network in both areas vastly differ. The promise of uninterrupted electricity during Iftar, Taraveeh and Sehr from day one was wrong. Let us get help to get out of this mess we have landed into. We do not need to wait for 2017. After all, promises were made when one was not in power. And they know how a prince should keep his word. They perhaps also know that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have known how to manipulate men’s minds. Now PML (N) is responsible for offering solutions. Well, let us not fool ourselves once again. Funding as well expertise is missing in this country to get out of this mess. Sooner we recognise that only then will we be able to plan better.
The Text appeared as Editorial of Business Recorder today.