A NEPRA inquiry into last month’s power breakdown that left almost the entire country without electricity for up to 22 hours has identified serious violations of safety and security protocols, as well as flaws in generation and distribution operations that resulted in the extended blackout. The probe underlines that barring a few hydel power plants none has the arrangements required to urgently restore supply to consumers. The report rightly laments the fact that the failure of the power authorities to fully execute recommendations of investigations into earlier, similar events had contributed majorly to the latest countrywide power breakdown. The fault, for example, originated at the Guddu power station, the same place where multiple such events have occurred over the last one decade, implying nothing had been done by the plant operators to prevent future breakdowns. Nepra points out that the system operators — NTDC and K-Electric — have also not established any contingency plans or developed guidelines for early system recovery following a total or partial shutdown.

The report also reinforces the popular view that the country’s power sector is getting crushed under the heavy burden of poor governance and the incompetence of the power bureaucracy. It is also a signal for the government to undertake urgent reform in the power bureaucracy and bring in qualified professionals to run the operations of public-sector companies. This could actually be the first step towards reorganising this crumbling sector for improved governance to reduce inefficiencies and corruption. The appointment of retired or serving military men and powerful bureaucrats to key posts in the power companies is largely to blame for their rapid decay, accumulation of a debt of over Rs2.3bn, increased transmission losses, electricity theft, lower bill collection, lack of transparency and poor governance. The second area where the government needs to take immediate steps relates to the adoption of new technology for averting large-scale breakdowns in future. Appointing the right person to the right job and the adoption of advanced technology can address most issues plaguing the power sector.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2021

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