Pesco seeks divine help to stop theft

Published Jul 22, 2013 07:42am
Commuters ride past a poster from the Pesco which reads: "Pray by the light of legal electricity.” -Photo by AFP
Commuters ride past a poster from the Pesco which reads: "Pray by the light of legal electricity.” -Photo by AFP
A technician checks electricity meters at a residential building. -File photo by AFP
A technician checks electricity meters at a residential building. -File photo by AFP

The Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) is appealing to its customers' religious consciences in a desperate bid to get them to stop stealing electricity -- a major hurdle in efforts to stem crippling blackouts.

Pesco has taken out front page adverts in three major newspapers in the country's northwest during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, reminding readers that stealing electricity is a sin.

“Do your fasting, pay zakat (charitable donations) and serve your parents, but do these things by the light of legal electricity,” the ad says.

“Clerics have ruled that doing good deeds by the light of stolen electricity is against sharia, so let us stop using stolen electricity and beautify our day of judgement.”

Across Pakistan, from cities to villages and from slums to posh neighbourhoods, people steal electricity every day, usually by means of a metal hook known as a “kunda” connecting the house directly to power lines in the street, bypassing the meter.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered a crackdown on electricity thieves, but they often work with the connivance of power company staff and few people are ever prosecuted -- hence Pesco's appeal to a higher authority.

Pakistan's power sector has been crippled by years of corruption and underinvestment, leaving people to struggle through blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in the blistering heat of summer.

Given the irregular service, many Pakistanis do not see why they should pay.

Amjad Ali, a welder living in a slum area of Karachi, says he cannot afford a regular connection but wouldn't pay for one even if he could.

“If I get a connection, half of my monthly income would go in electric bills. I am not a fool to pay for their corruption and inefficiencies,” he told AFP.

People using electricity without paying for it is a major cause of a massive pile-up of debt between government-owned power utilities, electricity generating firms and fuel suppliers, which lies at the heart of the crisis.

The blackouts have hammered industry and agriculture, shaving two percent off GDP according to the finance minister and Sharif's government, elected in May, has said finding a solution is its top priority.

Khawja Mohammad Asif, minister for water and power, told AFP his department was working closely with the finance ministry to find a way to clear the debt, which stands at a mammoth 500 billion rupees ($5 billion).

“It is a complex matter and would take a couple of months to be sorted out and we would clear off the circular debt by August,” he said.

But even if such bullish predictions come true, Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities in Karachi said the debt would mount up again to around 350 billion rupees by June because of corruption and the theft.

All over Karachi, jumbles of hooks connect overhead lines to homes, adding the threat of electrocution to the perils of life in Pakistan's crowded metropolis.

“The theft accounts for about 30 percent in our system inflicting heavy financial losses to our company,” said a senior engineer of Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC).

For the rest of Pakistan “transmission and distribution losses”, which include theft, run to 20 percent according to the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).

The power crisis has led to friction between Pakistan's provinces, with Karachi, the biggest city and economic heart, and Punjab province, the industrial centre, accusing each other of using more than their fair share.

In the restive tribal districts along the Afghan border in the northwest, there is a widespread belief that locals are entitled to free electricity under an agreement struck in 1947 with Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah over the building of the Warsak Dam.

Even in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, people consider free electricity as their birthright, saying the province generates most of the power for the rest of the country.

“You cannot call it a theft, it is our right,” Khan Ali, from Mohmand tribal district, where the Warsak dam was built, told AFP.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa produce the electricity, so we should be given some concession. The rest of the country is using our electricity, so why should we pay?”

Along with the kunda, another common way to steal power is by disabling the meter with a length of electrical wire, but a safer option is simply to bribe company officials.

Aftab Ahmed, from Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, said people in his neighbourhood pay meter readers 1,000 rupees ($10) a month and never have bills over 1,000 rupees despite running air conditioners all night.

Shafiq Ahmed, a mechanic in Islamabad has seen his bills tumble.

“I used to get high electricity bills, 3,000, 4,000 rupees, then one of my neighbours introduced me to the meter reader and the monthly bill is never more than 700 rupees,” he told AFP.


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Comments (5) (Closed)


Non-doctor
Jul 22, 2013 08:15am

Sad state of of affairs

Bkt
Jul 22, 2013 04:12pm

Ha! Ha! Ha! All Pakistanis know that a fool and his money are soon parted. Those who steal electricity would much rather go on stealing in comfort than pay any attention to what the sharia says. Still a nice effort and good joke on the part of the government on a people who have long ago forgot the value of ethics and integrity

iftikhar khan
Jul 23, 2013 02:24pm

why the electric company crack down their own corrupt line men and officials under their own nose this stealing is going on and they know very well who are the culprits, please do the clean up at your own house first.

Abbasi
Jul 24, 2013 11:08am

The high officials and Minister should take notice of misuse fo electricity by the staff of WAPDA and electricity companies as free facility. I have notice even the lineman is using two A/C in summer without even terning off in 24 hrs and were using electirc heaters for cooking and heating.

Who will charge them under electricity theft. The poor man of this country is paying bills honestly and even the high cost of electricity and suffering 10-15 hrsh loadsheding.

faheem ullah khan
Jul 25, 2013 04:39am

First the govt is requested to bring equality in providing the electricity and as well as charging in the form of bills (poor or rich, govt people or citizen) all are Pakistani. On one side people having a power in govt sector never feel load shedding. while poor peoples pass through 15 to 20 hr load shedding. and when there is a time pay for electricity bill the poor people are charge higher with respect to their consumption. while the people in power even not pay the bill. (Govt should first create the culture then go for social marketing).