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Too many players in the energy sector spoiling Nawaz strategy

The Nawaz Sharif government’s energy strategy is failing to produce the desired results because of too many cooks at the political levels and owing to the bureaucracy’s ad hoc approach, as most key official positions are held by temporary appointees.

Background interviews with some key players in the power sector reveal that neither the government is now sure of ending the loadshedding even in five years nor its campaign to check power and gas theft of over Rs250 billion per year has achieved the desired goal.

Instead of checking incompetence and corruption in the power sector, the government is now considering introducingsevere punishment for gas/power theft offences besides increasing the acceptable line losses percentage from existing 16.5 per cent to over 20 per cent.

The second move, if adopted, would further burden the good consumers to share the burden of power thieves and legitimise and sanction official corruption in a way. The federal government has also terribly failed to get the cooperation of the provinces to recover the outstanding dues of billions of rupees.

This situation, many believe, is the consequence of what they call “too many cooks spoil the broth”. Despite the officially notified political trio running the water and power ministry – federal minister for water and power Khawaja Asif, minister of state Abid Sher Ali and Prime Minister’s adviser on power Musadiq Malik – the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, his son Salman Shahbaz and even a Lahore-based top businessman of the country are said to have a major say in the federal water and power ministry.

As against this politically really top heavy water and power ministry, the bureaucracy in almost all key positions in the power sector is being run on ad hoc basis.

The irony is that not only the office of the secretary water and power is run by the additional secretary in-charge Saifullah Chattha but almost all the key departments under the ministry are assigned to acting heads. Chattha is also looking after the post of MD Private Power and Infrastructure Board. His joint secretary of ministry Zargham Ishaq Khan is also the acting MD PEPCO.

One Asjad Imtiaz is the acting CEO of the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB). The acting head of AEDB is wearing many other hats too including the Chairman Federal Flood Commission, Chief Engineering Advisor, Chairman IRSA and Project Director of WB Water Capacity Program. The post of MD National Transmission and Dispatch Company is also being held by an acting chief, Ziaur Rehman. The same is the situation in DISCOs (power distribution companies) with acting CEOs leadingIESCO (Islamabad), GEPCO (Gujranwala), LESCO (Lahore), SEPCO (Sukkur),

HESCO (Hyderabad), MEPCO (Multan), TESCO (Tribal Areas) and QESCO (Quetta). The sources said that only two DISCOs – FESCO (Faisalabad) and PESCO (Peshawar)- have regular CEOs. It is said that besides DISCOs, the Genco Holding Company CEO is also serving on acting charge basis.

Prime Minister’s Office spokesman when approached said that the additional secretary in-charge of the water and power ministry has been appointed for the reason that he is in the promotion zone and could be elevated any time. Regarding other positions being held by acting heads, the spokesman said that most of these positions are to be filled by the Commission constituted by the government following the SC’s order.

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