Opposition in Senate rejects Nepra inquiry into power outage

Published January 16, 2021
The opposition rejected an inquiry by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) into the recent countrywide power breakdown and called for an impartial inquiry.  — APP/File
The opposition rejected an inquiry by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) into the recent countrywide power breakdown and called for an impartial inquiry. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: As barbs flew in the Senate on Friday with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle engaged in war of words, the opposition rejected an inquiry by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) into the recent countrywide power breakdown and called for an impartial inquiry.

“If the appointments in Nepra are made by the federal government then how can they ask the regulator to hold an inquiry against them? We reject this fake inquiry as obviously nothing will come of it and I guarantee that after two-and-a-half years the government will still say that we are in crisis because of the last government,” PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said.

She asked the government to explain why the power sector is collapsing, why its circular debt has ballooned or why the country’s total debt has reached unprecedented proportions.

“No one is credibly answering key questions on what led to the breakdown of our power sector. The blackout we witnessed reminded us of the blackouts in wartime in my childhood. Yet here, Tabahi Sarkar let this situation continue for three days, but we are yet to see a response to this in parliament. Who is going to take the responsibility for this?” she asked.

Government holds previous govts of PML-N and PPP responsible for the state of power sector

Ms Rehman said that due to unprecedented mismanagement the circular debt was rising. “Power sector is being run on an ad hoc basis. Concerned ministries are busy targeting the opposition instead of doing their jobs… Doing talk shows and selling their false narratives do not equate to running the country.”

She regretted that the entire country was facing an unprecedented gas crisis. Last year Sindh was being blamed but what was the reason now as a pipeline has been installed, she wondered.

The PPP senator also said Federal Bureau of Revenue’s collection targets had been altered to appease the International Monetary Fund. “Loans and debts have increased so much that what two previous governments couldn’t manage in their combined tenure, this government has managed to achieve in just two-and-a-half years,” she added.

The government, on the other hand, held the previous PML-N and PPP governments responsible for the state of power sector.

Minister for Energy Omar Ayub chided the opposition for its hue and cry over the power outage, saying it had happened eight times during PML-N’s five years in power. They were shedding crocodile tears because they had not improved the power system when they were in power, he added.

He said the PPP did not even invest in its power bases like Larkana and now the PTI was improving the system there by curbing electricity theft. “The whole nation is facing the brunt of wrong planning of the previous PML-N government.”

Knowing that they would not return to power, the minister said, they laid “mines in the power sector” for the successors. “The nation will have to pay the price of wrong policies of the PML-N till 2023.”

He said the capacity payments necessary for retiring debt worth Rs185 billion were due in 2013 and the PML-N government took it to Rs466bn till 2018. He criticised the PML-N regime for awarding wrong contracts and heavily relying on fuel-based power generation.

Omar Ayub said the capacity payments of Rs860bn due in 2020 would jack up to Rs1,455bn till 2023, asking whether it was not a dacoity and injustice with the masses. He said there would be 686 per cent increase in capacity payments from 2013 to 2023 due to wrong polices and planning by the PML-N government.

The minister alleged that the last PML-N government had made two contracts for LNG import on different rates and the present government has not found an answer to it till now. “We are in difficulty due these contracts.”

He claimed that the PTI government had made LNG import contracts on rates even lesser than those of the PML-N regime. He said the PPP government was making wrong claims that Sindh had big reservoirs of natural gas as it had only 261mmcfd of gas left with it out of its total production of 2025mmcfd.

Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala said the NAB chairman had alleged that he was being blackmailed and asked the latter to come and tell parliament who was blackmailing him. He said NAB officials should declare their assets. What was the government’s objection over NAB’s accountability, he wondered.

Mr Mandviwala said family members of NAB director general Mangi were living abroad and asked who was bearing their expenses.

About NAB reference against him, the Senate deputy chairman said: “I don’t care if there are 10 cases against me, but the private business community in the country should not be targeted by NAB.” He said the State Bank of Pakistan was helpless and NAB had access to bank accounts of all.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said the government was ready to reform the accountability law but added that talks should not seek rollback of the accountability process. He chided the PML-N for appointing its sitting senator as head of the then Ehtesab Bureau.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021

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