• As first round remains inconclusive, interim PM to hold ‘detailed consultations’ with CMs
• PM Kakar plans reforms, seeks measures to curb electricity theft, conserve energy
ISLAMABAD: An ‘emergency’ meeting summoned by interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar to discuss the issue of inflated power bills, which have resulted in countrywide protests, remained inconclusive on Sunday with a second round scheduled to take place on Monday (today).
The issue of exorbitant electricity bills is believed to be the first test of the interim set-up, which is to remain in office till the general elections.
During the meeting on Monday, the government is expected to take some “immediate relief steps”, such as reduction in taxes on electricity, payment of bills in installments, and withdrawal of electricity quotas being enjoyed by Discos and government officials. “Meeting on power will continue for the whole day on Monday in which some relief will be given to the electricity consumers,” Information Minister Murtaza Solangi told Dawn.
“We have very limited space between primary surplus and current account deficit to give relief to people. But we have to do something in this regard,” the caretaker minister added.
Mr Solangi said the interim prime minister was considering several options to mitigate the sufferings of power consumers but he could not share details with the media till a final decision in this regard.
He, however, said the government could not tolerate that the poor were paying heavy bills while the elite class and officers of various institutions were getting free electricity.
The meeting chaired by the premier on Sunday was apprised that electricity worth Rs1 billion was provided free of cost to Wapda/Discos employees whereas a common citizen was paying up to Rs42 for each unit.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) quoted Mr Kakar as saying, “We will not take any step in haste that will harm the country. We will take measures that will not further burden the national exchequer and will facilitate the consumers.
The PM said, “It is not possible that while people face difficulties, high-ranked officials and the prime minister continue to consume free electricity paid for with the taxes people pay.”
He directed relevant departments and ministries to submit the details of officers who were being provided free electricity.
“I represent the common man,” the premier claimed, pledging that measures would be implemented to minimise electricity consumption at the PM House and Pak Secretariat.
PM Kakar said that on Monday he would hold a detailed consultation with provincial chief ministers on the inflated bills for July and the implementation of measures for energy conservation.
He also sought a roadmap from electricity distribution companies to curb electricity theft, the statement said, adding that relevant authorities were directed to submit “a short-, medium- and long-term plan for reforms in the power sector as soon as possible”.
In a statement on ‘X’, erstwhile Twitter, he said the interim government would try to provide as much relief to people as possible while operating within its mandate.
The meeting was also attended by interim Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar, Commerce Minister Gohar Ijaz, Information Minister Solangi, PM’s adviser Dr Waqar Masood, the power secretary and Wapda and Nepra chairmen.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq announced holding a nationwide strike on Sept 2 against the “exorbitant increase” in electricity prices, where people from “Karachi to Chitral would take to the streets”.
In a statement, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif said the IMF should be approached to negotiate on the possible relief that could be provided to the public.
The former defence minister proposed that the range of units consumed for lifeline consumers should be extended to 300 units from 200.
The JUI-F also urged the interim government to take immediate steps, cautioning that if it “does not show seriousness, defeated politicians can take advantage” of the situation.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2023