• Standing committee seeks consumer-centric reforms, one-slab benefit for consumers amid skyrocketing bills
• Questions lopsided agreements with IPPs, seeks their re-evaluation
• IMF not stopping you from curbing theft, losses, PPP lawmaker tells officials
ISLAMABAD: The power division, along with its subsidiary companies, came under sharp criticism from senators on Tuesday for ongoing inefficiencies, rampant theft and significant losses in the sector, at a time when such shortcomings have led to skyrocketing electricity bills, adversely affecting consumers and fuelling protests across the country.
In a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Power, presided over by its chairman Senator Saifullah Abro, senators proposed a one-slab benefit for all residential users. They insisted that those consuming less than 200 units monthly should remain shielded from tariff hikes, even if their consumption exceeds the threshold for a month or so.
The panel members also sought a re-evaluation of tariffs set with independent power producers (IPPs), which they said were gaining substantially from the rupee’s depreciation due to unfavourable agreements.
During the meeting, the power division representatives pointed towards the Ministry of Finance’s interactions with the International Monetary Fund regarding any possible relief to the consumers and argued that the government, including the power division, was required to follow IMF conditions.
However, the senators highlighted that the IMF never restricted them from curbing losses, theft and inefficiencies.
“Don’t try to blame the IMF,” Senator Behramand Tangi asserted. “The IMF is not stopping you from reducing theft and losses. Power companies’ employees are involved in corruption and nobody is there to check them.”
Senator Abro, the committee head, agreed that the international lender was being dragged into the matter, but the fact was that the power division had failed to control theft in power distribution companies.
The power division team, comprising additional secretaries Arshad Majeed and Zaffar Abbas and Joint Secretary Mehfooz Bhatti, told the meeting that consumers using less than 200 units for six consecutive months fall under the “protected category” and their rates have not changed.
However, senators challenged this, suggesting that consumers shouldn’t be penalised for exceeding this limit, and only additional units above 200 should be charged at a higher rate of the next slab.
The committee unanimously recommended that all domestic consumers should be given the benefit of one lower slab, as it used to be the case, to provide relief to consumers.
Senator Abro insisted that the only way to address the prevailing unrest and a civil disobedience-like situation was to make efforts to review the agreements with IPPs in detail and re-evaluate tariffs as per the legal framework.
He said that IPPs should not work independently without monitoring, as it leads to over-invoicing. He said the entire infrastructure needed re-examination and review based on clauses of misinformation and fraud.
The panel’s concerns were further exacerbated by the inability of power division officials to provide a decade-long breakdown of IPP payments. The senators observed that the independent power producers were at the centre of the ongoing power crisis, which was why their issues and data should be at the fingertips of power division officials.
The committee members said the people of Pakistan would never get relief until unqualified officers remained posted in the power division.
The Senate panel also inquired about the breakdown of the 44,943-megawatt installed capacity and why a maximum of 26,000 MW could be utilised. However, the power division officials failed to satisfy the committee when they said the installed capacity must always be double the maximum capacity.
The senators were informed that the 2022-23 tariff adjustments didn’t affect 63.5 per cent of domestic consumers. However, 31.6pc consumers experienced a Rs3 to Rs6.5 per unit spike and a mere 4.9pc saw a hike of Rs7.5 per unit. On average, domestic consumers faced an increase of Rs3.82 per unit, while other categories saw a Rs7.5 per unit rise.
The committee expressed frustration over the power division’s convoluted policies and called for more transparent and user-friendly initiatives, especially for the vulnerable populace. They also advocated for awareness campaigns detailing any relief measures.
Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2023