ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR - Abid Sher Ali, the State Minister for Water and Power, hurled angry accusations at political rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Tuesday, alleging that PTI ministers were involved in power theft in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, his allegations were met with equally bitter denunciation by Khan's party members, who rubbished the state minister's claims as political point-scoring.
Not surprisingly, the first salvos were fired by Abid.
Addressing a press conference at Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) media centre, Abid claimed that electricity theft in the province was resulting in massive power outages in the rest of the country.
"There are 283 feeders in KP which are showing over 50 percent loss. Every month, we are suffering 1.14 billion rupees loss due to the ongoing power theft in KPK," the minister said in his characteristic crude manner.
"There are overall 90 per cent line losses in the province and no one pays the bill of remaining ten per cent electricity which they use. The loadshedding in the country is due to power theft and bill defaults in the province," Ali said.
He asked PTI chief Imran Khan to take action against his ministers who have been involved in electricity theft and bill defaults.
"Your ministers have become dacoits; when the PESCO staff go for recoveries, your ministers aim guns at them, next time when someone will try to abuse the staff we will cut those hands," Ali warned in an ominous tone.
He promised to provide a video to press, in which, according to him, one of the PTI ministers is physically abusing Pesco staff.
Soon after the emotional press conference of the minister, protests erupted in the KP Assembly. PTI, MPA Farman put the responsibility of power theft on Pesco chief and declared him the root of all the corruption and losses. Farman accused PML-N of protecting the corrupt staff of Pesco.
MNA Asad Umar, a former business administrator and Senior Vice President of PTI, in an interview with The Nation, defended his party lawmakers.
"The minister of state needs to understand that electricity distribution system all over the country including KPK is under his control and PESCO is a federal entity," Asad said.
He said the KP Chief Minister had written to PM and minister for water and power that the provincial government was willing to take over PESCO but no reply has been received to the date.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is governed by the cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan's political party PTI, which came in power after 2013 general elections. During the election campaign, Khan had made many promises, especially vowing to eliminate corruption in 90 days. Imran's slogan against corruption and promise of reforms got immense popularity and his party got majority of seats in the KP provincial assembly.
Ruling party of the country, PML-N's election slogan, on the other hand, held a promise to overcome the power crisis and establish a state-of-the-art means of transportation - "The Bullet Train" in big cities.
Both the political parties are now at loggerheads over retaining the support of their electorate.
This is not the first time that Abid Sher Ali accused PTI ministers of power theft. From the last many months, Abid has consistently accused PTI leaders of doing corruption.
Some analysts believe that Abid's charged tirades are a political gimmick and the ministry of water and power, in fact, wants to avoid taking responsibility of its inability to overcome loadshedding.
Summer has not started fully yet but the energy shortfall is increasing every day. As of Tuesday, the electricity shortfall was 2200 megawatt. According to the data available with The Nation, the electricity generation was 9300 megawatt, whereas the demand was 11500 megawatt.
Political analyst Zafrullah Khan believes the minister's allegations on PTI have political motives.
"It is true that a common citizen is paying for electricity theft not only in PK but also in every city of the country," Khan said.
"Instead of doing structural reforms, the PML-N government is engaged in blame game, just to avoid real issues", he said.
He was of the opinion that in order to overcome circular debt, the government can deduct payments from the annual budget of the government organizations that are not paying electricity bill on time.