By Iqbal Sheikh

SELDOM, IF ever, employers and employees (maalik aur mazdoor) agree on anything. They have come together in the face of massive loadshedding in having a common nemesis – WAPDA. This mutual suffering and sorrow has brought them together away from their history of creative antagonism, at least for now. Losing a job in a power loom shed in Faisalabad is just the beginning of a powered slide into hell.

We can now add a new fissure, of access to energy, energy haves and have-nots, to the many older fault lines in our society, the rich and poor gap, feudals and haaris status, mill owners and mill workers chasm, English speakers and the natives. Karachi has zero loadshedding. Does the rest of the country deserve it? Khyber Pakhtunkhwa says we produce about twice the quantum of our load, then why are we subjected to loadshedding? Sindh says we produce most of gas and Punjab produces only about 200 million cubic feet per day, why do we have to suffer gas loadshedding? May be the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) model is the model to follow, but today there is a KESC and the rest of us.

A friend literally heard a giant sucking sound some months back near Hub as he looked at the power line evacuating power to KESC, referring, of course, to the 650 megawatts (MW) plus diverted to KESC. Though the political chattering class woke up to it later, the talk had been on for some time.

At one level the deleterious impact of load shedding can be likened to that of indirect taxation whereby the poor are hit harder than the better off. The rich – the very rich, in any case, are different from you and me – suffer too, but have the resources to invest and work out of this malady. This denial of service inflicts even more drastic reduction in the poors standard of living – sleeping inside the home versus sleeping in the great outdoors, on tharras, in parks and green belts swelling the ranks of the sleep deprived and the work denied. Wealth incumbency has never had better benefactors.

Consistent under investment in required generation platform has the now familiar ring of being the latest and perhaps the most potent weapon to deny opportunity, embed the inbred elitism and continue a generational transfer of wealth from the poor to the privileged in a society already plagued by lowest tax-to-gross domestic product ratio and record budget deficits. From the imaginary returns to savers, multiple wars, low direct taxation, to load shedding, the list goes on. The meek and the taxpayers shall inherit a country sucked dry and their children will carry this unbearable fiscal cross.

Unthinkingly or by design, this raft of foul policy consequences, policy surrender or inaction seems to have morphed into a social Darwinists dream experiment and the instruments are “starved ed and med and power sectors”. Unknown to the elite, these guinea pigs can mutate into bothersome frankensteins and their historic good behaviour could not be taken for granted.

The demand management has greatly and fundamentally changed for the worse the chasm between the haves and have-nots and has now become the item number one one on our social conversation agenda. People now exchange schedules of loadshedding in their respective communities and even think of relocating to abroad or to Karachi. Many an entrepreneur has been wiped out as they did not/could not put up their captive generation and four hours a day, 16 per cent of production loss, load shedding just killed them.

Our Manhattan Project: No matter which way you dice it, load shedding is essentially a supply side phenomenon. The system needs immediate induction of 3,000 – 4,000 MWs, or more of cheap- read coal-fired- power to tilt the balance of power from RFO to a cheaper mix.

Both, imported coal and indigenous coal IPPs should be pursued vigorously, whichever comes first. Presently, this scale of investment can only be provided by the government of Pakistan. If the government of Pakistan can sink a trillion rupees into the power sector in the last few years, why cannot they invest a few billion dollars in real present-value positive, infrastructure projects like these. When it came to crunch, the Republicans voted for TARP. No TARP, no capitalism. Market fundos overnight rechristened themselves into market socialists. It was a one night stand, so what. They got the money. The Citi was saved. If they can do it, why cannot we do, especially when nobody else will do it? We must not wait for the private sector. They know somebody stole the punch bowl.

When the Manhattan Project achieves financial close- financial close shall taste different in this case- the private investors shall creep out of the woodworks and start knocking at PPIB/TCEB doors and promise more but not before the circular debt monster is slain and interred.

Induction of empowered independent boards of directors of Discos and Gencos, from the private corporate and professional sectors with full political support a la KESC shall do the trick. This reorganisation must itself be a part of a first step to privatisation. Discos are sterling silver just waiting for the alchemist who will turn them into gold.

Till the time these changes are implemented we shall keep doing what we are doing. If you are going through hell, we are, just keep walking.

The author can be reached at Courtesy Daily Times

By Web Team

Technology Times Web team handles all matters relevant to website posting and management.