ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday took strict notice of public complaints about inflated electricity bills and directed authorities concerned to submit an urgent report on the matter.

“Khadim-i-Pakistan is ans­werable to his people for resolution of their grievan­ces. I am committed to tell­ing truth to my people,” the PM was quoted as telling participants of the meeting.

Mr Sharif took the notice after people in several parts of the country started taking to streets to protest against the federal government’s approval of massive increase in power charges which led to inflated power bills for both domestic and industrial power consumers.

Last week, farmers from several villages in Punjab blocked motorways for hours, chanting slogans against the federal government and Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco) for massive increase in electricity charges.

The protesters were carrying electricity bills, demanding the government to issue bills according to units they had consumed.

Last month, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) allowed distribution companies to charge an additional Rs155 billion to compensate for the higher fuel generation cost in June.

The authority allowed an unprecedented fuel cost adjustments (FCA) of Rs11.37 to Karachi power utility K-Electric and Rs9.89 per unit to electricity distribution companies previously owned by Wapda, or Discos.

Earlier, the government had also announced an increase of Rs7.91 per unit in the average base tariff across the country in three phases starting with effect from July. It had approved Rs1.55 per unit increase in the base tariff across the country under a quarterly adjustment.

The huge increase of Rs7.91 per unit in power charges, which raised the national average electricity tariff up to Rs24.82 per unit from the existing Rs16.91, from July, was just one of several unpopular decisions the government has taken to obtain dollars from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral and bilateral creditors.

Other government decisions include reversal of unsustainable fuel subsidies and imposition of massive taxes in the budget.

Visit to Qatar

Meanwhile, the prime minister would travel to Qatar on Tuesday for a two-day visit to boost up trade and energy cooperation while Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has postponed his trip to four European countries because of rains and floods in the country.

The Foreign Office said that PM Sharif would visit Doha from Aug 23 to 24 on the invitation of Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

This would be Mr Sharif’s first visit to Qatar since assuming office in April.

In his meetings with Qatari leaders, the prime minister will review the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, with a particular focus on advancing energy-related cooperation, deepening trade and investment ties, and exploring greater employment opportunities for Pakistanis in Qatar, the FO said.

“They will also exchange views on a range of regional and international issues of mutual interest,” it added.

Ahead of Mr Sharif’s visit, Bloomberg reported that Qatar had agreed to provide $2 billion in bilateral support to save Pakistan from default. It is part of $4 billion that the government is expecting to get from its Arab friends.

The remaining $2 billion are likely to be provided by Saudi Arabia and UAE.

It is not clear if the Qatari government will formally announce this support during Mr Sharif’s visit or would do it later.

The prime minister will also visit Stadium 974 in Doha, where he would be briefed on extensive preparations undertaken by Qatar government for hosting the FIFA World Cup.

Pakistan Army will provide security at FIFA World Cup being hosted by Qatar in November and December.

The federal cabinet on Monday approved the agreement between Government of Qatar and Pakistan Army for the security of World Cup matches and participants.

The FO said that PM Sharif’s visit to Qatar would give a renewed impetus to deepening cooperation between the two countries in diverse fields and further strengthen their growing economic partnership.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2022

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