• Power minister vows decisive action against complicit staff, officers
• Hints at reviewing power rates for solar, industrial consumers to stimulate demand

ISLAMABAD: Conce­ding regular overbilling by distribution companies and the power division’s total ignorance about the extent of defective meters, Power Minister Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari on Thursday hinted at reviewing electricity rates for solar, industrial and tribal region consumers to revive plunging electricity demand and counter rising capacity payments.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Leghari also alleged that not only electricity thieves but also the officers and staff of his ministry and subsidiaries were causing around Rs560 billion annual loss. He vowed to end this menace that was becoming unaffordable to the nation and causing irreparable harm to the economy.

The minister said the distribution companies were losing Rs200bn on account of electricity units they bill but cannot recover, while another Rs360bn worth of units were lost to theft facilitated by “our officers and staff”. “It’s unacceptable,” he said.

He said the government would act against all those in whose jurisdiction such losses and theft were found. “The government would not be bowed down by protests. This is essential service” and 20pc staff and officers were involved in facilitating those losses at the cost of common consumers, he said.

He said the government was being blackmailed that fresh inductions could not be made to replace corrupt officials. “There’s no dearth of fresh engineers who have the relevant qualifications and can be trained to take over assignments,” he stressed.

Mr Leghari said the Discos staff from superintending engineers (SEs), executive engineers (XENs), sub-divisional engineers (SDOs) to linemen and meter-readers had time until April 23 to survey their respective areas and jurisdictions and remove kundas (illegal electricity connection). If they failed to do so, the government would send special teams and FIA officials to act against the staff.

He deplored that his ministry did not know how many meters were faulty. He said that on his inquiry, the power division reported that only 100,000 meters were defective in Discos’ jurisdiction. He said when he pushed if all other meters across the country were working fine, “we don’t know” was the answer.

Massive overbilling

The minister also conceded that overbilling worth “crores of rupees” was taking place in the Discos every month, not only in the domestic sector but also in other areas. He said massive overbilling was also going on in the agriculture sector, where people had shifted their tube-wells to solar power and transformers were lying idle, but millions of rupees worth of bills were being issued to them.

Mr Leghari’s position contrasts with the line taken earlier by the power division before he took over as federal minister. Last year, the power regulator Nepra accused the electricity distribution companies of massive overbilling after a detailed investigation.

The power division and its attached companies denied Nepra’s allegations. The division then formed its own “independent inquiry team”, which also confirmed Nepra’s findings, but the power division did not make the report public.

Mr Leghari said a strong roadmap for power sector reforms had been prepared based on the directives of the prime minister that would be made public in a few weeks to control power pilferage, overbilling, and circular debt. The minister also confirmed that about Rs1.9 trillion worth of bills were currently outstanding and the circular debt now stood at about Rs2.5tr.

In response to declining electricity demand partly due to the shift towards solar power, the government is contemplating rate reductions for industrial consumers and other incentives to encourage higher power usage.

The minister said about 6,800 MW of solar panels had been imported this year, and only 700 MW had gone into net-metering as more and more consumers were going off-grid. “We are seriously thinking about this,” Mr Leghari said.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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