Price bombs

Published June 17, 2024

THERE was a time not too long ago when the faces we see sitting in government today would cry themselves hoarse over a single rupee’s increase in the per-unit price of electricity. They would beat their chests and take to the streets, threatening to send the government packing over its inability to manage runaway prices.

Oh, how the times have changed. Days after dropping tax bombs that will further eviscerate the struggling masses, the authorities have announced that not only will they be taking more money out of the paychecks of salaried individuals, they will also be squeezing whatever is left through significantly jacked up electricity bills. According to news reports, Nepra has hiked the uniform national tariff for the base price of electricity by almost 20pc to hand over electricity distribution companies almost half a trillion rupees more over the next fiscal year.

The average base tariff for a single unit of electricity, which was Rs27.78 in the outgoing year, will be Rs35.50 from July 1. On top of this, various duties, taxes and surcharges, as well as fuel and tariff adjustments, will be slapped, forcing ordinary citizens to pay through their noses, not just for the fuel and operation and maintenance costs involved in generating electricity, but also for capacity charges that past governments have promised power generation companies, as well as the theft and transmission losses that distribution companies have shown a complete unwillingness to mitigate for many years.

When all is said and done, the average middle-class bill-paying customer will be forking out between Rs65-72 for each unit of electricity they use in a month. Meanwhile, the government will take this ‘achievement’ to the IMF to ask for even more loans to keep a clearly failing system running for a few years longer.

The icing on this cake is that, at the same time, the government has announced a Rs10.69 per unit ‘relief’ for the industrial sector to ‘make it competitive’. There can probably be no better example of crony capitalism. While the average salaried individual is trying desperately to get their dependants through the month on a shrinking real wage amidst month after month of unceasing, unchecked inflation, it is the big seth who gets a break in the form of cheaper electricity so that they can pad up their profits while paying little back to the country in the form of taxes.

That the government is failing the people seems like an understatement. It is clearly least bothered by their plight. Its financial planning shows that it has no interest in going after those who dodge their dues; it just wants to take the easy route and enjoy the ride for however long it is in power.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2024

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