Electricity or shortage of it, in Pakistan is a dire issue. It affects everyone, rich possibly more than poor but only because former rely on such luxuries more than the latter. Corruption and mismanagement in the WAPDA and Electricity supply companies is rampant, much like any other public organization. Most of the discourse revolves around electricity capacity of the country, and it always boils down to Kalabagh, even after many reports on infeasibility of the project and political issues attached to it. After a highly revealing and definitive article by MNA Marvi Memon, which, due to writer’s political predilection and background, one would have thought will have ended the discussion. But we are not the sort that lets facts, figures and logic hinder us.
It is however clear that production is not the only reason behind the load shedding, it also has to do with unscrupulous activities of the administrators. A friend recently moved in a locality where most of the homes did not have meters. He didn’t either, but had electricity nonetheless. Being a responsible person, the said friend applied for a meter to the supply company. Whilst his application was being ‘reviewed’, he was visited by some men from the department. These people first asked my friend to retract his application and enjoy the benefits of free electricity; all he had to do was pay a nominal fee directly to them. He declined. Then they threatened him that all the illegitimate connections would now be billed through his meter. Being a man of modest means, he didn’t tempt them and accepted their earlier offer. As in a way he is better-off anyway. I also know a few other people personally who have no electricity meters in their homes and they were broached by electricity officials themselves. There are some who do have meters, but still get some of the electricity without meters. Others still, have meters which have stopped working, and they get ‘estimate bills’, the meters being stuck for years.
It’s no wonder then that, most of the electricity supply companies are in loss. Every new officer gets information of amount owed to WAPDA. The collection obviously is less than electricity used because of these unscrupulous activities. These losses are carried onto WAPDA, which is unable to justify new production. WAPDA then also continues to show losses in its accounts.
If some pressure is applied on the local administrators due to losses, the only method used to cut losses is load shedding. What this does is that, among other things, people who are paying estimate bills would still pay money regardless of their usage of electricity. This affects people who have genuinely been put on estimate because their meters have stopped working. In some cases, perfectly good meters are put on halt to allow this. If enough people are placed on estimate bills, a good amount of recovery might be made. Similarly the only way to stop illegal connection is through cutting off power, this way their unbilled usage doesn’t get billed in the company’s account. This is not a perfect science, but even if some of the losses are reduced, it is good. This as I said, is just one of the reasons why we have load shedding.
What reinforces this destructive cycle even more is the ‘remedy’ applied at top. Their recourse has always been to increase the tariff, which actually squeezes the people paying honestly even more. Given the choice, more of the people seek to use illegitimate means; this increases the losses and which then leads to even more increase in tariff, which makes electricity even less affordable for remaining people. Time and again there have been officers who have tried to lower losses, taking drastic measures in the effort. However what they get for this is ill-will of many and there is no reward. Comparatively their corrupt peers are better-off monetarily, socially and dare I say, politically. There is no penalty mechanism for increase in losses; worst that can happen is being told off by your superior, who nonetheless expects their ‘cut’. The current mechanism of reward and punishment is based on possible promotion, but that again is periodic, opportunities come in decades at times, and even then many other factors are also involved. This effectively is not an adequate method at all.
The losses suffered also make it unfeasible for WAPDA to spend more on electricity production, even as demand grows. This is another reason for load shedding.
There is need for an honest and effective review on the workings of our electric companies, failure to do so would lead to eventual privatization of these companies. Economically speaking, it doesn’t make any sense for an organization that has a product with inelastic demand to remain in loss. However what that means is expensive electricity for consumers but also less manpower, due to likely efficiencies.
Ironically it is the workers in these departments who are playing a vital part in their own ultimate dismissal. People looking at KESC example should rethink; private investors always learn from other people’s mistake and are likely to seek legal commitments in future. One thing is for sure, in the current state some are trying to free-ride at expense of others. This would definitely lead to consequent loss for everyone but the investor, provided they manage properly themselves, would gain.