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Load-shedding burden

Published Apr 21, 2017 01:20am

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WITH the return of load-shedding around the country, especially in the PML-N heartland of Punjab, memories of the last election have been stirred. Chronic power shortages, and frequent blackouts have played a pivotal role in the last two elections that were held in 2008 and 2013. And although the incumbent party in both instances was facing serious issues of credibility — as well as violent resistance to any public appearances in the case of the PPP in 2013 — the fact that the electorate went to the polls amidst crushing outages was a visible sign of the government’s failure to govern. It is, therefore, for good reason that the present government appears to be more nervous about load-shedding than any other issue, and the assurances offered by Khawaja Asif, the minister for water and power, in the National Assembly on Wednesday held a note of panic. The minister made a list of all the power projects that are scheduled to come online by the end of the year, and told the Assembly members that they should feel free to “grab me by the collar” if load-shedding continued to persist till then.

It is unfortunate though that the present peaks of load-shedding have little to do with power-generation capacity, and even less with the minister’s collar. Fact of the matter is that each time the power system has failed in such large measure, it has been due to financial constraints, which in turn grow out of an outmoded governance regime. It was this governance regime that the minister’s party had promised to fix by undertaking deep-seated reforms. The power sector is woven into so many other aspects of government operations that it is virtually impossible for one ministry or department to give an assurance that it will operate smoothly. Lack of liquidity, failure of tax refunds for private power producers, or the lack of ability to import fuel in time have all played a role in crippling the sector in the past. For this reason, a proposal was developed in the middle of the PPP government’s tenure to perhaps merge the petroleum ministry with the water and power ministry, to perhaps create one large ministry of energy, but that proposal never went beyond the discussion stage.

There was another proposal to allow market forces to play a greater role in power pricing, which could have helped mitigate the constant liquidity shortage that the sector suffers from, thereby easing the accumulation of circular debt and smoothening out arrangements for fuel supply. That proposal also went nowhere. The only proposal that achieved something under the present government was the Chinese one — of massive new investments in the power sector using Chinese project financing. And it is these investments alone that the minister today points to when asked about load-shedding. These megawatts are what the government has pegged its future on, and if load-shedding is to rear its head when the campaign rallies get under way, and the electorate gears up to vote, the minister might yet rue his offer to be grabbed by the collar.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017

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Comments (5) Closed



M. Emad Apr 21, 2017 01:48pm

Bangladesh Electricity generation capacity currently 15,000MW.

Marata Apr 21, 2017 02:59pm

As a Geologist i don,t know why our government is not constructing large term projects, e.g., construction of the DAMS, when we have a lot of DAMS we will be no problem of load shedding, Pakistan has also a problem of water shortage in the future this is the time for the construction of DAMS, otherwise in near future we will have no water for drinking even, Global Warming play a very important role in the deglaciation.

gknatarajan Apr 21, 2017 11:22pm

@M. Emad tamilnadu[india] installed capacity is 29000MW.[population 7crores]. yesterday actual consumption 15600 m.w. maxm. so far in this summer. consumption may increase by another 1000m.w. in may, peak summer. no power cut since 3 years!

Ftlatif Apr 22, 2017 12:58am

Dear PM

Keep it simple. Lack of 5000MW That equals 100. Mill. 50W bulbs or similar consumers. So why not just distribute 100 mill. or more energy saving bulbs to all household For FREE

This should solve the very little cost and very fast

Just call me Tipu Sharif.

Just Someone Apr 24, 2017 12:40pm

@Marata : If you read you will find that there are many small and large dams in the design and construction process. Unfortunately they take 8 to 10 years to construct and commission and you can not wait that long for power to come.