Very ugly indeed

It’s no politics; it’s sheer vandalism of the highest order. Federal Minister Syed Khurshid Shah has reportedly threatened a governmental take-over of Karachi Electric Supply Company, if the management does not absorb the laid-off workers. He seems to have ignored the fact that the courts have found their removal as lawful.Although, their strike has been declared illegal, the protesters are occupying various complaint centres of the southern power utility where they are causing damage to company’s assets.Karachiites have been suffering long hours of loadshedding due to shortage of generation capacity vis-a-vis demand. Now a bad situation has become even worse due to agitational activity of workers who have been forcefully preventing the on-duty staff from fixing power breakdowns for the last two weeks.This ugly situation is a result of the law enforcement agencies abject failure to protect the KESC installations against continuing assault as these have been found to have succumbed to pressure of their political bosses, who are clearly and unambiguously seeking populist solutions at the cost of this city’s economic interests.The management of KESC and its Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) obviously have no convergence on the future of KESC.

While the management wants the utility company to get out of its financial and operational morass; the CBA wants to protect job of a few thousand co-workers, who are no longer needed in the company. The management is doing what the law permits it to do. The courts, they rightly claim, have ruled in their favour. The CBA, on the other hand, has embarked on a highly objectionable course. A few months ago, both the major political parties in the Sindh government forced the KESC management not to lay off surplus workers, although these parties were expected to ask both the sides to follow the law. The protesting workers need to realise the fact that the company exists above all for the customers. Without a market for the product, the shareholders would not invest and the workforce, therefore, would have no jobs. It needs to be recognised that the utility company is faced with gigantic cash flow problem. Its financial woes have drastically and profoundly stunted its ability to make timely payment to gas and oil supplying companies.

At present, KESC is the only privatised transmission and distribution (T&D) company in the power field. The government has divided Wapda’s T&D into a dozen or so companies. President Asif Ali Zardari has tried to induce big local business bosses to come forward; invest and take-over these Discos in order to create operational efficiencies and lessen the burden on the exchequer. Seeing what is going on in Karachi, these investors must be shy from taking the control of even some profitable discos operating in Faisalabad, Lahore, Islamabad or elsewhere in Pakistan. The President’s initiative is followed by business people’s stares of utter disbelief at the Sindh government’s complete lack of appreciation of the situation. One must not lose sight of the fact that businesses exist first for the shareholders who invest to make money by producing a product that is needed by consumers. It is the process, ie, from investment to product, which surely creates job opportunities. So a company requires both capital and labour.

Politicians in authority need to weigh the consequence of their populist posturing on the economy of the economic hub of the country. If complaints of power outages continue to remain unattended, one hundred times more workers will risk losing their jobs in private sector in Karachi than a few thousand at KESC. When economy suffers, as it is now clearly and increasingly evident (primarily on account of energy shortages), revenue collection would also take a nosedive. All funding plans for the general good of the electorate on which a re-election of an incumbent depends will evaporate into thin air. If this issue continues to remain unattended indefinitely, this city of teeming millions will become an ocean with few fish in the shape of job opportunities and a community of fishers threatened with acute poverty, food insecurity and violence. The government is therefore required to realise that public responsibilities are handled with an eye for private need and capabilities, while private tasks are fulfilled with an eye for public needs and capabilities. – Yahoonews