THE energy crisis being faced by Pakistan and the consequent suffering being inflicted on the populace appears to be getting worse with every passing day.
The country’s policymakers and those taking the decisions have been unable to address the problem, and the crisis is now in its sixth year. None of the plans or initiatives that have been announced during this period have worked, and some have actually made matters more complicated, a case in point being the rental power projects.
The national energy conference convened by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani earlier this month concluded on a note similar to that of the earlier conference in 2010.
The initiatives that have been announced echo those taken during the 2010 moot: a two-day weekend for public-sector offices, 50 per cent energy saving in these buildings, the termination of power supply to signboards and the closure of commercial markets at 8pm.
It has also been decided that payments will be released to power companies, ageing power plants will be revamped, unregulated or unannounced loadshedding will be curtailed and that all these developments will be monitored closely. The other ideas discussed by the conference, including the distribution of energy-savers, checking leakages along the energy grid and switching to daylight saving, are not new either.
Have decisions that will actually make a difference been taken at this conference? A simple way of projecting the likely success of the announced initiatives is to look at what the 2010 conference accomplished. None of its initiatives were implemented and the energy crisis has only grown in proportions.
Over the last two years, for example, the electricity shortfall has grown from over 5,000MW to over 6,000MW. Even conservative estimates suggest that since 2010, the energy crisis has cost the national economy around Rs1,500bn and around 200,000 industrial workers have lost their jobs.
The obvious failure of earlier efforts to address the situation and the subsequent attitude of the authorities concerned leave little room to be optimistic about the results the recent conference may produce. Media reports say that a senior politician suggested that the long-standing issue of circular debt be resolved.
This was one of the most genuine ideas presented at this conference but alarmingly, it was rejected without due deliberation. That does not give a very healthy impression about the intentions of those that convened the conference. Equally worrying is the fact that the real issue — poor governance — has once again been overlooked totally.
On the face of it, the energy crisis is an issue of both the availability and the affordability of electricity. Despite the very technical nature of the subject at hand, the crux of the matter is that the situation has less to do with technical issue than with issues of governance. The energy crisis has actually been created and then fostered by bad governance.
The energy sector has been a victim of the erroneous formulation of policy and poor decision-making. Particularly over the last three decades, the sector has more or less been run on an ad hoc basis.
Concepts such as sustainable and value-engineered solutions seem to have eluded the policy planners, and characteristics such as professional integrity and ethicality have become extremely scarce at the decision-making level. Little wonder, then, that the pursuit of personal and political interests, political interference and financial and administrative irregularities, including nepotism and corruption, have brought the energy sector to the current pass.
The mindset of the policymakers was reflected just a few days ago at the conference: one planning official declared that “the energy crisis is because of an intellectual crisis in the country”.
Asked to revisit his judgment and refrain from ignoring the role played by poor governance and its rewards such as the lack of commitment and professional integrity at the decision-making level, he remained adamant. He taunted the attendees by asking: “Is there anybody in the conference hall who can speak proper English?”
It is the authorities’ chronic habit to come up with lame excuses to gloss over their incompetence and malpractice, but even by that standard such a remark must be considered bizarre.
Clearly, this official forgot that he was addressing a gathering of highly qualified professionals and scientists, many of whom received their qualifications from the best universities in the world. He didn’t realise, no doubt, that hardly any room is left for such trained experts to help the country when at the top level, matters are run in the manner that are hardly professional.
Yet the decision-makers are mistaken if they think they can continue to run the energy sector in such a poor fashion. At both the macro and the micro levels, the economic situation in the country can simply not afford the impact of a poorly run energy sector over a long period of time.
The trajectory of the violent protests against loadshedding in recent months suggests that matters may spiral rapidly out of control, resulting in chaos and causing irreparable damage on many fronts.
The challenges posed by the country’s energy situation are undoubtedly grave, but they can be tackled. The gap between the demand and supply can be efficiently bridged and the affordability of energy can be improved. In actual fact, Pakistan has sufficient and diverse energy resources and capable manpower. What is lacking is commitment and vision at the policymaking level. Unless that is addressed, no matter what solutions are presented, they will all prove illusionary.
The writer is an associate professor at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK, and is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.