Privatising Discos

Published October 8, 2023

THE caretaker government’s decision to ‘hand over’ the loss-making power distribution companies, or Discos, to the private sector through long-term concessions comes across as vague. News reports suggest that the proposal to transfer the Discos to the private sector through concessions was one of three options put forward by the energy ministry at a recent meeting of the Special Investment Facilitation Council. The other two solutions put on the table were older: provincialisation and privatisation of the Discos. The reasoning behind the SIFC’s decision to pick this option is unclear as the mechanism under which these companies are to be transferred to the private sector and the details of the concessions are shrouded in secrecy. The power minister did not utter a single word at his recent news conference that might have cleared the confusion.

The power distribution companies have been a constant source of deep worry for successive governments. The large distribution losses, revenue leakages, low bill recovery, huge electricity theft and supply constraints plaguing these companies have put them at the centre of Pakistan’s power sector woes. In the past, various options, including privatisation and provincialisation of Discos, have been debated to fix the staff-heavy, inefficient, and mismanaged companies. Not one could be implemented for several reasons. The option of provincialisation means that their losses would be transferred by the centre to the provinces. Their privatisation seems impossible because these are monopolies and typically very large companies — both financially and geographically. Resistance from their staff is also a major impediment to privatisation. No effort to sell any Disco barring K-Electric has succeeded in the last 20 years because of these reasons. It is difficult to say how the new plan — which doesn’t seem to go beyond rhetoric — will counter these obstacles. The practical and quicker way to the problem lies in breaking the monopoly of these companies by exposing them to private competition. Private investors must be encouraged to set up new, smaller power distribution companies by allocating them specific areas and allowing them to use the existing distribution network of the Discos for a reasonable fee. This will be in line with the government’s plan to create a competitive electricity trading market in the country and provide consumers a choice, besides exposing the Discos to competition and forcing them to improve their services and cut losses.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2023

Opinion

On writing

On writing

There is no ceremony or ritual that marks any person as a writer except the simple yet unimaginably significant act of starting to write.

Editorial

A way forward
Updated 17 Jul, 2024

A way forward

Before political leaders inflict more damage, they must give talks a chance.
Export delusions
Updated 18 Jul, 2024

Export delusions

Plummeting exports as a ratio of GDP is one of the major reasons driving the current economic slowdown and the balance-of-payments crisis.
Diversity in UK politics
17 Jul, 2024

Diversity in UK politics

THE recent UK elections have ushered in the most diverse parliament in the nation’s history. Under the leadership...
Banning PTI
Updated 16 Jul, 2024

Banning PTI

It appears that the govt and its backers within the establishment have still not realised that they are in uncharted territory.
Nato at 75
16 Jul, 2024

Nato at 75

EMERGING from the ashes of World War II, and locked in confrontation with the Soviet-led Communist bloc for over ...
Non-stop massacres
16 Jul, 2024

Non-stop massacres

Netanyahu is cunningly pretending to talk peace while mercilessly pounding Gaza. What is clear is that a return to pre-Oct 7 status quo is impossible.