While speaking at the anti-inflation rally in Lahore, PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, claimed that the KPK government would curtail power theft, recover consumer bills, and cut financial losses if it was given control of the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO). It is a matter of routine for politicians in Pakistan to make promises which start with ‘only if’. Uncommon is the prompt response from the federal government which pounced on the opportunity to put its rivals to the test. Before the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, could formally transfer control to the KPK government, KPK Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, sent a letter of his own to the premier with a long list of demands.
As of now, there appears to be a stalemate between the centre and the provincial government. The KPK government has made it clear that it is unwilling to take control of PESCO, until or unless, the rest of its demands are met. This includes “full control of PESCO from generation to transmission to distribution.” PESCO has a Combined Efficiency Index (CEI) of 55%. The transmission and distribution losses are 34.5% – second highest in the country – and the recovery rate stands at a poor 84%. Simply put, its performance is anything but satisfactory. The transfer, if it does take place, will be in line with the 18th Amendment which calls for devolution of powers to provinces. However, it is not so much a matter of provincial autonomy, at least not solely, as issues of capability and capacity are extremely pertinent.
Experts are of the view that KPK government lacks the capacity to run PESCO in its current, frail state. If given control, it will likely struggle on all fronts including funding, management of capital and operational expenditure and human resource. Of course, the PTI would never concede its government’s limitations, and the PML-N would love to see the disaster unfold from the front seat, but that is obviously not in the interest of the country. Already, employees of the electric supply company have started protesting against the proposed transfer. They fear that the move will result in administrative and fiscal problems for the thousands of employees, and have threatened large-scale protests if the plan materialized.
When dealing with issues of such critical value, it is necessary to avoid falling prey to needless hastiness and political posturing. There is a way to go about things, and this is not it. There has to be a proper mechanism in place to deal with issues such as the PESCO handover. This exchange of letters is well and good, but really, the matter has to be considered on another platform such as the Council of Common Interests (CCI). It is hoped that our political parties realise that it is healthy competition which is desirable, not foolish rivalry at the expense of their voters.