Bad governance, poor maintenance responsible for blackout

Published January 26, 2015
A motorcyclist rides down an unlit street during a power cut in Karachi on January 25, 2015. — AFP
A motorcyclist rides down an unlit street during a power cut in Karachi on January 25, 2015. — AFP

LAHORE: A combination of bad governance, poor maintenance and non-professional bureaucratic management at the ministerial level is how power sector experts explain Satur­day’s national electricity breakdown, fourth of its kind over the past 48 days.

The events of the breakdown created a sense of déjà vu and also explained general failure of governance, particularly in the power sector.

Also read: 'Power breakdown caused by militants blowing up transmission towers'

Saturday’s failure is a familiar story repeated three times over the past two months — internal safety mechanism creating a cascading effect, saving the system but plunging the entire country into darkness. It took six hours to start first machine and bringing back the system took almost 12 hours. A few plants were still being restored as late as 7pm.

Former managing directors of different power sector companies termed it complete concoction; not of facts, but implications.

“It must be a world record of having four national breakdowns over the past 48 days — one for every 12 days,” regretted a former head of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco).

“The government has conveniently blamed sabotage for this breakdown; how about the last three ones? Previously, there have been 168 cases of sabotage on different transmission lines, andNewspaper.National:LatestNews none of them resulted in a national breakdown. How and why this one has resulted differently? That is a question, which needs to be answered,” he said.

A former head of the NTDC said: “The power ministry is in complete denial of real malice of the system, which is financial and oil squeezes and appointments of non-professional managers to head different companies. Its failure to collect bills (hovering around Rs590 billion) is central to the crisis which, in turn, resulted in the PSO defaulting on its payments and leading to national oil crisis.

This oil crisis, in turn, led to extreme fragility of the generation and transmission system. This failure to collect money also leaves precious little for maintenance of the system, leave alone improvement. That is what explains the crisis, not simplistic view of one-off sabotage.”

A former general manager of the Grid System Operation asked what had the chief engineer (south), under whose jurisdiction both these lines fell, been doing. There are a number of measures that should have been followed the last sabotage; community patrolling, putting the Frontier Constabulary along the line, especially when the single circuit line was the only connection between the national grid and Quetta areas, and its wider implications for the system were known to everyone.

“When was the last maintenance of these lines carried out? All these questions should have been answered by the ministry. What steps the government has been taking to save these lines, if it considered sabotage as the only reason?” he wondered.

He insisted that if infrastructural architecture of these lines was correct and properly maintained, there was no way such a minor sabotage could take down the entire system.

“The malice is much deeper and wider than the simplified version taken by the successive minister and ministries. All companies are headed by ad hoc heads, which are monitored and directed by generalist bureaucrats, with no knowledge of the system; neither generation, nor transmission nor distribution,” he said, adding that it was easier for the ad hoc employees to mislead a non-professional monitor; in nutshell, it was a blind leading the blind at the ministry and its results were there for everyone to see and suffer.

Published in Dawn January 26th , 2015

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