Apr 172008

Dr M Asif
One of the major problems facing the new government, the energy crisis, is intense, costly and multi-dimensional. The infuriating electricity and gas disruptions and soaring fuel prices in turn pushing the cost of living have made life difficult for people. The even before it took office the new government was greeted with two jumps in fuel prices, accounting for a 15% rise in two weeks. Meanwhile, crude oil prices have been registering all-time-highs, shooting 40% in the past year. The undeniable reality is that that this global spike will somehow have to be accommodated in energy prices in Pakistan.

There is no quick solution to electricity shortage and the trend of surging prices is irreversible. There is very little the new government can do on this in the immediate term. At best, the problem can be prevented from aggravating until a sustainable solution is struck. Tough decisions will have to be made, and executed with commitment.

The starting point of any remedial efforts should be an acknowledgement of the fact that the crisis is a self-inflicted one. It cannot be denied that something has been wrong down the line that caused this crisis. The country has nearly gone energy bankrupt while a total disaster appears to be round the corner unless pragmatism is shown. It is also important that lessons be learnt from the past mistakes on part of relevant circles. The crisis is still addressable as long as there is due vision and devotion.

The golden age for energy in Pakistan has been 1960s and most of the 1970s, that is when Tarbela and Mangla dams were put into operation and other dams, including Kalabagh, were actively pursued. In subsequent years, action in the field of energy has been utterly recklessness. The prevalent crisis is a consequence of imprudent energy policies over the last three decades.

One of the major limitations that have hindered energy prosperity in the country is short-sightedness. There has not been a meaningful and coherent energy policy in place over this period. The approach has been “project-oriented,” rather than “goal-oriented.” Almost every regime has dealt with energy on an ad hoc basis. Long-term and sustainable planning of energy have been an alien concept. The reason is fairly simple; energy projects usually require huge investments and commitment, making them undesirable to any regime. The attitude of delaying new projects, as far as possible, has been the common practice and is in fact the recipe of the present crises. In doing so, when things start getting out of control, haphazard and quick-fix measures are sought. A typical example is the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) saga of the 1990s. In an attempt to avert an approaching energy crisis, as a result of negligible capacity addition during the 1980s and the early 1990s, the regime in 1993-94 decided to go for thermal generation through the IPPs. Undoubtedly, the IPPs provided a very healthy contribution at the supply end, enhancing power generation capacity by more than 5000MW. Nevertheless, this power addition cost the country a fortune – apart from the controversial tariff structure, the move was against the spirit of energy sustainability and security for the country. The fact that the IPPs were set up at the terms of the investors suggest that it was a move made in panic.

The last few years provide a perfect example of failure to make a timely response to the growing energy needs. A threefold increase in energy demand over the last two decades has been responded to with an ill-proportioned increment at the supply end. Consequently, with the advent of 2008 the gap between demand and supply grew to 4,500MW indicating a 40% deficit of electricity. The prevalent energy crisis has not appeared overnight — the omens were evident for a number of years but the authorities failed to react in time. Senior WAPDA officials claim that in 2002 the government was officially warned about the approaching electricity crisis and was asked to take immediate measures to enhance generation capacity. The timely warning failed to receive any appreciation. The attitude of the relevant authorities has thus indirectly contributed to the growth of the dire crisis. Another example worth quoting here is that of the 969MW Neelam-Jehlum hydroelectric project. It was to be constructed in 2003 at a cost of $1.5 billion. It got abandoned until the present power crises intensified towards the end of 2007. The revised estimate is around $2.25 billion. The delay is costing the country a fortune – an extra $750 million in terms of project cost, apart from enormous monetary dents inflicted by the five-year delay. It is also noteworthy that WAPDA has traditionally pursued the major projects of national interest but failed to get the due positive response from the policy- and decision- makers. Interestingly, WAPDA plays the role of a scapegoat, because the common man blames WAPDA for his sufferings.

It is also important to plant relevant and qualified people at the key policy and decision making positions. Quite often, these positions are offered to utterly irrelevant, ill-qualified and incompetent people. The track record suggests that energy offices are amongst the most coveted ones in any regime, simply because they are considered to be the most lucrative ones. There are examples when undergraduate and utterly irrelevant people have been appointed to run energy offices. There are also cases when the crucial positions have been used as incentives during political bargaining. The unhealthy attitude towards sensitive energy positions is enough to explain how the field of energy has been traditionally toyed with.

Another aspect of the bankrupt policies is politicisation of projects of national interest. The paramount example is that of Kalabagh Dam. It has been politicised to such an extent that its orchestration now appears to be next to impossible. Evidences suggest that the issue has been used to serve the vested interest of regimes and certain political and ethnical forces. With the emerging post-lection sense of national reconciliation on the political arena, it is expected that such projects would be looked into with cool heads. It is time to move on. The technical issues, if there be any, have to be addressed on the drawing board, rather in processions. It has to be realised that the delay in project has not only made the country suffer but also people that come from all provinces.

In order to tackle the existing crisis and ensure a prosperous energy future, the backbone of the future energy policies would have to be reliance on domestic resources (hydropower, coal and solar and wind energy) and energy conservation. Decisions on energy projects should revolve around national interest rather than naïve political and personal gains. Energy offices should be run by qualified, committed and deserving people equipped with due mandate. Relevant ministries and departments should also be overhauled.

The writer is a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. Email: dr.m.asif@gmail.com


Courtesy: The News, 17/4/2008

 Posted by at 10:02 am

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