Caretaker Power Minister Muhammad Ali (centre) and his colleague Information Minister Murtaza Solangi address a press conference, on Wednesday.—APP
Caretaker Power Minister Muhammad Ali (centre) and his colleague Information Minister Murtaza Solangi address a press conference, on Wednesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: The care­­taker government on Wednesday announced launching a data-based countrywide crackdown on electricity theft and low recoveries, together causing an estimated annual loss of Rs589 billion.

The action, coming on the heels of nationwide protests against bloated bills, will include removal of corrupt officers across the distribution formations and depoliticisation of the management and boards of distribution companies (Discos).

“Electricity prices will not reduce unless theft comes to an end and bills are fully paid,” said caretaker Minister for Power and Petroleum Muhammad Ali Ghulam Ali at a joint news conference with his cabinet colleague for information Murtaza Solangi.

He said the government was engaged with the IMF for relief as promised by the caretaker prime minister and hoped to get a response from the lender in a day or two.

IMF response to relief proposal expected in a day or two; minister suggests special courts, police stations to check theft

Mr Ali said the action against power theft and non-recoveries could be implemented immediately to reduce burden on paying consumers. The performance of the minister himself, secretary power and others in the line would be evaluated on the basis of theft reduction and higher recovery, he added.

For the long term, he said, approval would be sought for amendments to the Electricity Theft Control Act to create special courts, police stations and specialised force for electricity theft control.

Power Secretary Rashid Langrial said the government was “very serious” about an early divestment of three best performing Discos — Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Islamabad — through initial public offerings at the stock exchange and appointing professional management and board of directors in all the Discos.

Mr Ali said five Discos — Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Multan — together faced Rs100bn worth of annual loss because of 39 billion units (kwh) wasted to theft and lack of recovery against a total annual billing of Rs3.044 trillion, accounting for 3pc loss.

However, five other Discos — Peshawar, Hyder­abad, Quetta, Sukkur and Tribal — caused about Rs489bn losses against a total billing of Rs737bn which meant their losses stood well over 60pc.

Because of 60pc losses of these five Discos, the paying consumers in other Discos were being increasingly burdened owing to uniform electricity rates across the country. He said the government had all the relevant data which suggest losses ranged between 60-90pc in about 52 circles and data-based operations would be conducted immediately against theft and lack of recovery.

He said three steps had been envisaged in this direction. Technological interventions would be made through smart meters and transformers when losses ranged between 15-20pc.

Secondly, the government was seriously considering involvement of private sector management where losses ranged between 30-60pc.

Thirdly, the areas where losses exceed 60pc would be targeted through enforcement measures with the help of chief ministers, IGPs and chief secretaries.

On top of that, boards of directors and managements of these Discos were being reviewed for change. He said that lists of officers of the ranks of sub-divisional officers and executive engineers with “integrity problems” had been finalised with the help of intelligence agencies and shared with the Election Commission of Pakistan for clearance before notifying their suspension from service, reshuffle and other related measures because they were facilitators in electricity theft and low billing.

Task forces

He said provincial task forces were being finalised to be led by energy or home secretary and comprising a federal power division officer and a police officer.

Similar task forces under commissioner at the divisional level, under deputy commissioner at the district level and under assistant commissioner at the tehsil level are also being activated. They all would be monitored on a daily and hourly basis at the Power Planning and Management Company (PPMC) through a dashboard to be overseen by the secretary and the minister.

Mr Ali, who had authored a report on capacity payments, overpayments and over-invoicing of independent power producers during the PTI government, said a work plan had also been prepared for higher capacity payments, improvement in the transmission system and higher intake from coal and renewable energy plants.

However, he added, the plan was under the approval process and could be shared once in the final shape.

‘Jet-black integrity’

Mr Langrial said that 10-15pc officers of “jet-black integrity” identified in the Discos’ lists would be suspended immediately while all others would face reshuffles to break long entrenched ‘collusion networks’ as their longer stays in one district meant they had developed ‘unholy relationships’ with industrialists, businesses and in mohallahs.

The power secretary said that crackdown against theft would begin from easier and settled areas with the help of police and would then be expanded to difficult areas including in the formerly tribal region where support and cover of other institutions could be invoked.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2023

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