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LAHORE / SHEIKHUPURA: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lashed out at his political rivals for threatening to hold protests against long durations of loadshedding across the country while speaking on Wednesday at the inauguration of a 717MW natural gas-fired power plant at Bhikki, some 16km from Sheikhupura.

“Those threatening to hold protests are in fact responsible for the problem. They laid the foundation of this menace... You should be ashamed,” he said, referring to the delays and other problems that were encountered in completing power projects during the tenure of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government.

“Had you worked with honesty and dedication, the nation would not have seen this day.”

The prime minister was initially supposed to inaugurate the plant on Thursday but had to reschedule the event because the Supreme Court is scheduled to issue its verdict in the Panama Papers case on Thursday.

Mr Sharif’s behaviour during the event did not indicate that he was too worried about the judgement, according to analysts and observers.

Those threatening to mount protests against loadshedding are the ones responsible for it, says Sharif

Towards the end of his speech, the prime minister urged the people sitting in the last rows to clap enthusiastically as he recalled what he called the many achievements of his government.

Mr Sharif, who had earlier in the day criticised the PPP-led Sindh government during a meeting of the PML-N’s Sindh chapter in Islamabad, once again blamed the PPP for failing to “realise its responsibilities” towards the masses. “Mass transit and water supply projects in Karachi are being executed by the federal government even though they are the responsibilities of the provincial administration.”

He said he did not want to name names, but “had some provincial governments [actually] worked, it would have been visible to all”.

Recalling former Balochistan chief minister Aslam Raisani’s fondness for motorcycle races, he said the incumbent Balochistan government under Sanaullah Zehri was doing a good job as peace and political stability had largely been restored in the province.

The premier then criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf for engaging in politics of agitation. These “newcomers in politics” who resort to holding sit-ins, hurling threats and “false” accusations, lost in the Talagang by-polls by a margin of over 20,000 votes despite getting support from other parties, he said.

He warned the PTI leadership that “their future is doomed if they don’t mend their ways of making false allegations and obstructing the path of progress through ‘agitational’ politics”.

About the energy crisis, particularly in Punjab, Mr Sharif said the power shortage had occurred due to water scarcity, and assured the provincial government that stringent action would be taken against the officials found guilty of negligence in this regard.

The power plant inaugurated in Bhikki is expected to be partially operational soon. It will function at its full capacity from June onwards.

The government had earlier vowed to eliminate electricity shortfall by the end of 2017, as several major electricity projects, including the Sahiwal Coal project, and power plants at Balloki, Haveli Bahadar Shah and others, are expected to be completed by August this year, the PM said.

He said the Punjab government was spending a huge amount from its own resources and no foreign loans had been acquired in this connection, he added.

He said the Bhikki power plant had been completed in the shortest possible time — 18 months. Other projects will also be completed on time, he said.

In his speech, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif recalled the Supreme Court’s statement that the verdict in the Panama case would be remembered for 20 years, and added that what Prime Minister Sharif had done for Pakistan would be cherished by its people for at least another 40 years (the operational life of the power plants).

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2017