Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi on Monday said that the energy ministry has chalked out recommendations to tackle the issue of inflated power bills — which have resulted in countrywide protests — and would present them in the federal cabinet meeting tomorrow.
The public has taken to the streets in large numbers since Saturday over exorbitant electricity bills on the back of a significant increase in the national average tariff. The outrage had prompted interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq to take notice and summon an “emergency” meeting for Sunday to discuss the issue.
However, yesterday’s meeting had remained inconclusive with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying another round would occur today.
In a post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) today, Solangi issued a statement from the Ministry of Energy which said that a high-level meeting was held in which proposals were finalised on the issue of electricity bills.
The proposals, it stated, would be presented in Tuesday’s federal cabinet meeting which would then take a final decision on the matter, as it was the forum authorised to approve such proposals and take decisions.
A day earlier, Solangi had told Dawn that 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.
Talking to a private TV channel later, he said the complete focus of the government was on providing relief to the masses in electricity bills.
“We are focusing on how to provide relief to the masses instead of delving into the discussion that who is responsible for expensive electricity,” the minister said.
He said the caretaker government took the oath on August 17 and the consumers received inflated bills for the month of July.
PM Kakar has taken notice of the inflated electricity bills, Solangi said, adding, “We are a responsible caretaker government and cannot ignore the issue.”
He said tomorrow the issue would be taken up by the Federal Cabinet which would explore the ways to pass on relief to the public without violating the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.
The minister resolved that the cabinet would decide in favour of passing on the relief to the masses.
He said the prime minister held a meeting with the relevant stakeholders today too. “The media should inform the masses about the reasons behind the increase in electricity bills,” he said while responding to a query.
“Political temperature is already high in the country,” he said, stressing that there was no need to resort to debate about who was responsible for the high bills.
To another query, he said the caretaker government wanted to hold peaceful and fair elections in collaboration with all political parties as per the schedule of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). “The assistance to the electoral watchdog would be provided by the government,” he added.
“The ECP would decide about the tenure of the caretaker government,” he said, adding the entire schedule of the delimitation exercise was uploaded on the electoral watchdog’s website.
In light of the decisions of the Council of Common Interests, he said, the ECP issued its schedule under Article 51 of the Constitution.
Protests continue in different cities
Protesters took to the streets across the country for the fourth day today to show their anger at the exorbitant bills. According to DawnNewsTV, protests were carried out in Bhawalnagar, Layyah and Lahore.
In Peshawar, citizens blocked Kohat Road, saying that electricity had become too expensive even though they were suffering hours-long loadshedding. The protesters also burned tyres and chanted slogans against the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco).
A demonstration was also held in Charsadda as protesters blocked Farooq Azam Chowk and chanted slogans against the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).
“The increase in electricity prices has broken the backs of the poor. The people cannot afford more taxes,” one of the protesters said.
Citizens in Battagram blocked the Karakoram Highway on the call of the president of the traders’ union. Protesters blocked the highway at Khatmi Nabuwat Chowk for traffic and shouted slogans against the government for sending them inflated electricity bills.
President of the traders’ union, Abdul Ghaffar Deshani, said the people would not accept the inclusion of more taxes in power bills as they were already paying more than they could afford.
He said that the government was trying to save face and was “hiding its incompetency” by burdening consumers.
Kako, a trader and union leader, said that people were paying taxes that did not fall on their shoulders. He said that the burden of new taxes would paralyse their businesses.
In Rawalpindi, protests were staged outside the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) offices. Citizens burned their bills and chanted slogans against the government as people surrounded the Bakra Mandi grid station.
“They are sucking our blood in the name of taxes,” one protester said. “Neither will we pay these bills nor will we let them cut our electricity,” another added.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) announced a countrywide strike on Sep 2 against electricity bills.
A press from the party’s Karachi chapter said over 100 protest demonstrations were staged in markets across the city against the hike in power tariffs.
JI Karachi chief Naeemur Rehman said the large-scale protests across Karachi were a “reflection of the future for the ruling regime”.
“The caretaker government will have to reduce the electricity tariff, eliminate the taxes and mitigate the inflation,” he said.
Addressing the K-Electric higher-ups, he warned them against threatening Karachiites and told them not to send their staffers to cut the electric supply until and unless the federal government decided the matter of electricity prices and taxes.
He said that Karachiites didn’t want to confront the power supplier’s poor staffers, but, “the KE mafia wants to use its employees as a tool for untoward incidents in order to create a faceoff between the law enforcement agencies and the masses.”
PM says govt will not take any step ‘in haste’
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 PMO quoted 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 today 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.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Ali.