ISLAMABAD: The state of affairs at the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (Neeca) has become a true depiction of the country’s energy sector challenges.

The government has suddenly notified abolition of key executive positions at Neeca, the agency tasked with efficiency and conservation of the energy sector that was already extremely understaffed — operating with just 10 members against a sanctioned strength of about 255 — on conflicting grounds.

The agency established about three decades ago has remained a rolling stone among the ministries of water and power, environment, energy, science and technology and power. Its glamorous building in the federal capital has also remained subject to fire incidents, controversies in renovation work contracts, the purchase of luxury vehicles during the period of a complete ban and so on.

Early this month, a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) was published in the Gazette of Pakistan with the apparent approval of the board of directors to the effect that about nine executive positions of director generals, internal auditor and registrar stood abolished. The board decided to terminate the position of three director generals (for human resources, policy planning and innovation and energy information and futuristics) based on ‘unsatisfactory performance’ reported by the management.

Neeca already operating with only 10 members against sanctioned strength of about 255

The second reason for doing away with these executive positions, including registrar and internal auditor, was slated to be cost structure rationalisation. The agency has a sanctioned strength of 254 staff, against which only 10 were working and three of them have also been fired. Out of eight positions of DGs, five were never filled, to begin with.

Interestingly, the new notification abolished the role of the board of directors comprising four to five federal secretaries in the selection of executive-grade staff.

Under the previous Neeca Act, these positions were to be filled by the government apparently to ensure their independent reporting structure — audit, policy, etc — unlike all other positions (about 245) that were to be filled through a transparent process by the Neeca management.

The SRO has set qualification criteria for hiring staff through an external selection process of a recruitment firm. It has now created a new directorate of managing director secretariat for which no qualification is set, thus eliminating the position of registrar.

The new gazette notification gives all hiring powers to the managing director and the only positions where the board of directors could have given its expert opinion in the law related to director generals which have now been abolished.

Despite this, the agency was allocated a Rs175 million budget in 2021-22 for salaries which was increased to Rs230m for 2022-23. In FY24, the budget was increased to Rs250m, but this time a substantial amount was proposed for conversion to operational budget.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2024

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