MOST parts of the country were without electricity when incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif delivered a speech at a function in Lahore to mark the 15th anniversary of the nuclear tests.
The persistent power cuts of the past several months led him to remark that it was a tragedy that a country with a nuclear arsenal was facing chronic electricity shortages. But he could not give a definitive time frame for when the shortages would end, and instead warned the people against harbouring too many hopes that the formation of his government would lead to an instant solution. How the voters, especially in Punjab, who have returned his party to power with an emphatic majority, are going to react to his appeal for patience will become clear in the next several weeks, given that the party’s pledge to end the power crisis was a key plank of the PML-N’s poll strategy.
For now, many people in different parts of the country are protesting against unannounced blackouts of up to 18 hours a day.In Mirpur, where scores of demonstrators had clashed with police, Mr Sharif’s own party called for public protests against the power cuts. Indeed, growing power shortages have not only crippled daily life, they are also disrupting industrial production. The incessant power cuts are estimated to cause an economic loss in excess of 4pc of GDP a year. Hundreds of factories have been forced to close down while others are operating far below their capacity. Thousands of jobs have been lost.
The reasons for the country’s power sector woes — mismanagement, corruption, lack of investment, etc — are well known. So are the solutions to the power crisis — deregulation and privatisation of generation and distribution companies, change in the energy mix, reform of the pricing structure of different fuels, investment in hydel and coal generation, etc. The crisis has worsened ever since the caretaker government took over.
But it would not be fair to fault it for doing too little as it has had neither the mandate nor the money to carry out reforms. Meanwhile, considering the extent of the crisis, it is hardly likely that the problem will go away soon. Yet the incoming government will have to move swiftly to minimise shortages by implementing power sector reforms and ensuring optimal utilisation of the available generation capacity to revive growth. Those who voted the PML-N into power in the hope that it could end the crisis will be watching the government’s performance closely on this front. – Dawn