“Ignorance never settles a question.”
Successive governments in Pakistan have been afflicted with a deadly disease called air-conditioned ignorance. The ruling class has mostly remained oblivious to the sufferings of teeming millions. A glimmer of hope was ignited when former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made efforts to improve the people’s lives. But after him, no other government tried to follow this struggle.
Today, Pakistan continues to suffer from the worst energy crisis in its history. Despite this, instead of putting their heads together, the politicians are busy playing the blame game without realising the people’s misery. In addition, even four years after the PPP-led ruling structure came to power, it has failed to identify the real causes of electricity shortage. It is also true that the solution is well within its reach, because whenever rallies and protests are held against unscheduled loadshedding, electricity is restored though for a few weeks. So, this attitude of indifference shown by the people at the helm of affairs has raised questions about the institution of democracy.
The government is caught in a web of around Rs 400 billion circular debt and there is no reason why it cannot be cut substantially or removed altogether. The difference between demand and supply has ballooned to over 8,000 megawatts; it is a condition that is entirely due mismanagement, corruption and Wapda’s inefficient distribution system.
The situation demands a prompt and thorough inquiry into the affairs of all the distribution companies and Wapda, and whoever is found guilty of mismanagement and corruption must be sacked without any discrimination. On its part, the least the government can do is to ensure that the power generating companies work to generate electricity to the maximum capacity they have under their command. For this, it is the government’s duty to ensure uninterrupted supply of furnace oil and gas to these power plants.
Side by side, avenues for power generation through hydel projects should be explored so that energy crisis does not arise in future. At the moment, due to electricity shortage, the country is in double jeopardy, where on the one hand, the entire nation is up in arms; on the other, the economy is receiving body blows day in and day out.
According to an estimate, Pakistan suffers a loss of nearly $10-12 billion due to lost investments, unemployment and bank defaults because of the energy crisis. It is a pity that the political leadership does not any concern that is required in the present situation in which the entire country is spending sleepless nights due to long hours of loadshedding.
The PPP-led coalition government must understand that if this problem persists, it may lose the next elections. The government is advised to cut its non-developmental expenditures and trim the perks and privileges of those who are not contributing productively for this country.
Another solution could be to generate loans or outright subsidise the present crisis, so that the sufferings of the poor and needy could be reduced as early as possible. For the government, this should be a continuous exercise. It should not leave it to the masses to come out in the streets, which is now degenerating into violence. That has resulted in the loss of precious lives and extensive damage to property.
As for the opposition, the opportunity is very tempting to score political points in an election year. But they must understand that if they instigate the people towards violence, they are not doing any national service and are equally responsible. It is, therefore, expected that in the coming days and weeks the government would generate the funds that are required to provide electricity to the people and that a uniform load management policy is put in place in the country without discrimination.
As far as state organisations that have failed to pay billions of rupees for electricity consumption, the government is well within its right to deduct funds at source from them, so that the burden of circular debt can be reduced.
Another important issue is the pilferage of electricity, which cannot be done without the support of Wapda employees. Strident measures must be put in place not only to punish those who are guilty of stealing it, but also facilitate such thefts. Out of every Rs 100 that is due to the government, Rs 28 are never received because of the menace of theft. So, if the government manages to control the situation, it will surely alleviate the people’s suffering and reduce the government’s burden of debt.
All these things are manageable, but require political will and honesty of purpose. In case the concerned authorities fail to make amends and come clean on this issue, it could plunge the country not only in the darkness that has been imposed due to the non-availability and mismanagement of electricity affairs, but also lead to an early demise of democracy.
The level of social unrest that is now being witnessed in the streets also has the potential to snowball, creating conditions for intervention by the forces who do not believe in the will of the people. Therefore, in order to avoid a situation where democracy is once again derailed, it is better that the people at the helm of affairs wake up before the situation slips out of hand; a prospect that will not be in the interest of Pakistan and its people.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.