Islamabad: Yet again, the government claims to generate more than double of the present power generating capacity by 2018 but opposition politicians say it is just “a political gimmick” to win votes as 2018 will be the election year.
Painting a rosy picture of Pakistan’s ailing power sector, Zafar Yab, deputy secretary (Admn-1) at the Ministry of Water and Power told News Lens Pakistan that power generation capacity would be surged from 16,890 megawatts (MW) to 40,000 MW by the end of 2018.
“The nation needs 22,000 megawatts electricity while production stands at 16,890 megawatts,” said Zafar Yab.
But, opposition leaders say it is another tall claim by the rulers to garner votes in the 2018 ballot.”
In his chat with News Lens Pakistan, Senator Farhatullah Babar of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) said the government has been promising the nation “time and again” to end power outages but those pledges could not be materialized.
For example, he said that Shahabaz Sharif, chief minister Punjab and younger brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had said that he would no longer calls himself Shahabaz Sharif if he fails to resolve the power issue.
“Now, almost more than three years have passed and the power crisis instead of being addressed has further worsened,” he added.
Details provided by the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) revealed that back in 1947, the country had only 60 MW of electricity generation for a 31.5 million population. Similarly, in 1959, power generation locally increased to 636 MW.
The NTDC documents said that in 1970 the task to generate more electricity was accelerated and the power generation capacity rose to 1,331 MW with installation of a number of thermal and hydel power units. Again in 1990 to 1991, the electricity generation surged to 7,000 megawatts.
But Zafar Yab added that now the total generation capacity of electricity from hydel and thermal sources after completion of Chashma Hydro Power Plant plus generation from independent power procedures stands at 16,890 megawatts.
With the fast-approaching summer season, the nation reels under frequent power outages amid claims by the government that the chronic electricity problems would be resolved after two years.
When the Nawaz-led government took over it promised to address the circular debt issue, Babar recalled, adding but today again the circular debt has mounted to almost Rs 5 billion.
“This is how we see the power sector. This is a great issue and it can’t be resolved by this government without taking all stakeholders and the political parties on board,” he observed.
When asked why 2018, the election year, is identified by the government to generate electricity, he said that it is quite obvious that they (the government) want to influence the election results by “making tall and false promises.”
But regardless of tall and false promises, he said the people of Pakistan are well aware that the same government had not kept their promises in the past.
“They (the government) can’t play with the sentiments of the people behind these gimmicks,” he said.
Zafar said that during the last two years Pakistan Muslim League-N government has brought some sort of “tangible changes amid stability in electricity load management.”
Since November 2014, he said, the government has reduced domestic load-shedding down from 8-11 hours to 6-8 hours.
Similarly, he said that industrial sector load-shedding has been brought down from 8-12 hours to zero.
He went on to say that uniform policy for load management for the entire country has been put in place. He said that reduced and predictable load- shedding for domestic (6 hours Urban and 8 hours Rural except for areas where ratio of electricity theft is high).
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised several times that he will rid the nation of electricity outages but the country still experiences worst power breakdown.
It is feared that the load-shedding spell would intensify during May, June, July and August— peak months of summer season.
But the official at the Ministry of Water and Power said that from January 2015, the government took some steps to save line losses and theft of electricity.
The steps, he said include automatic load shedding under frequency scheme, cross-trip scheme at power houses and grid stations, over load control mechanism and loss of voltage control mechanism.
Irum Ijaz, a schoolteacher in Rawalpindi— a garrison city on the edge with Islamabad, said, “We can’t any more believe on these false promises of the government to fix the power issue.”
She complains that unannounced power outages have left her electronic appliances such as refrigerator and washing machine damaged.
Dr. Sohail Farooq, head of economic department at Hazara University and expert on economic affairs, said frequent power supply harms local as well as foreign investment directly.
Because of power outages, he said that extra cost of generator bears by the producers as well as consumers. “For example, when there is no electricity the cost of one page photocopy jumps to Rs. 5 per copy from Rs. 2,” Farooq added.
In addition, the power breakdown has affected the performance of employees badly, he said, adding that the risk of not meeting the deadlines again affects the producers as well as consumers.
To a query whether the government will be able to overcome power crisis, he said, “No, it’s not so easy, as our projections are not realistic.”
Khaliq Kiyani, an analyst covering economy for years, expressed pessimism regarding the government’s promise to have 10,000 MW surplus electricity by 2018.
“I’m not sure we will have surplus electricity in the next ten years even,” he said, adding the country’s economy is at its lowest ebb.
If the government really wants to woo foreign investors, Kiyani suggested it should ensure uninterrupted power supply, which would restore foreign investors’ confidence.
The government, he however, said has taken the only positive step to ensure “predictability in the load-shedding.”
An official at the Ittefaq Steel Factory in Islamabad who declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, said the government has set zero load-shedding criteria for industry this year.
“Industries are running smoothly this year because of constant power supply as compared to previous years,” he remarked.
Shah Nawaz, an office-bearer of small business enterprises in Rawalpindi, said that frequent power breakdown leaves far-reaching negative impact on small businesses.
“Virtually, we depend on small power generator, which runs on fuel. Our daily profit goes on generating electricity from our generator,” he rued.
Without giving details as to how and who would fund the projects to generate the promised megawatts of electricity, the official said that the government has adopted a “multi-pronged policy to achieve the target.”
The policy to generate more electricity includes transmission lines investment policy, coal and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) based power-security documents with mega hydel projects are on track.
When asked how electricity outages impacts foreign investment, Dr. Farooq said investors hesitate to invest where there is interrupted power supply.
“During power breakdown, foreign as well as local investors have to pay the labors for the hours for which they have produced nothing,” he concluded.