KARACHI: Former Senate chairman and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Senator Raza Rabbani along with several trade unions and civil society organisations on Saturday highlighted the issue of privatisation of distribution and power generation companies of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).
“It was only yesterday that the government increased per-unit tariff of power by almost Rs2. Petroleum prices are also being raised by this government. Increases in the cost of these two things alone give way to inflation, and inflation puts off stove fires in poor people’s kitchens,” he told a press conference at the Karachi Press Club.
“On the other hand, this government provides benefits to crony capitalists, it gives NROs to the construction industry. Three days ago that NRO ordinance and incentives package was also given a six-month extension. But the workers, on whose shoulders rests the country’s economy, are not seen as important,” he said.
Raza Rabbani says all public sector companies under federation come under CCI purview
Coming to the main issue, Mr Rabbani pointed out that the privatisation of distribution companies of Wapda was being done under agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
“Such agreements are kept secret. And hence our basic infrastructure industries like power generation units are being privatised, which may pose a threat or risk national security as the crony capitalists use your industry to serve their purpose,” he remarked.
He called the government’s privatisation programme unconstitutional because all public sector companies under the federation come under the purview of the Council of Common Interests (CCI).
He said that earlier the collective bargaining agent (CBA) in all companies of Wapda was one and uniform but now the government had decided that each distribution company should have separate referendums and separate trade unions. “It is an anti-worker step by the government,” he added.
He also reminded how the K-Electric had been privatised in 2005. “Utilities are not privatised anywhere in the world. But here we privatised KE, saying that KE’s new private management will invest in infrastructure. But have they done that even?”
Abdul Latif Nizamani, president of All Pakistan Wapda Hydro Electric Workers Union (CBA), said if Wapda were to be privatised, its workers will find themselves unemployed.
“We have already seen what happened after KE was privatised and how its workers were fired. Pakistan Steel Mills is also facing a similar fate as is PIA. We had stepped forth in Wapda to stop this earlier, too. And we will do it again and again because these are our national assets. And national assets are not for sale. Wapda has shown impressive performance over the years. Its recovery is 100 per cent and yet it is being sold,” he said.
CBA’s general secretary Khurshid Ahmed said that there were over 30 million customers receiving power through the Wapda system in Pakistan and they would suffer due to the government’s decision to privatise the company and power supply to domestic and industrial units would be hampered.
‘KESC privatisation left 4,500 jobless’
Akhlaq Ahmed of the KE Workers Union said that the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) was privatised on Nov 26, 2005 and at the time the KESC union had filed a constitutional petition against the step. “And we got the decision of that constitutional petition only now, after 15 years and one month. Everything had been done through the backdoor,” he said. “As a result of KESC’s getting privatised 4,500 workers became jobless,” he added.
Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research pointed out that the privatisation of Wapda was dangerous because power was an important sector and it directly affected the common man.
Other speakers at the press conference demanded that mutual talks with the representatives of Wapda workers and the proposed privatisation process of all national institutions be abolished. As it is, workers across the country are suffering due to spiralling inflation and the coronavirus pandemic. The government should increase the salaries and pensions of the employees of all government agencies, including Wapda in proportion to the rate of inflation, which has not been done for a year and a half now, they said.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021