It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!

load shedding

During the 1990s, American President Bill Clinton is said to have kept a sign on his desk which read simply, “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” The sign was meant to remind him at all times what he should be working on if he wanted to remain popular among the masses. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces protests and failing support, he should borrow Bill Clinton’s idea and place in the middle of his office a sign that reminds him every day: “It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!”

Imran Khan is planning his next round of protests based on alleged discrepancies in the 2013 elections, but it’s not allegations of vote rigging that are hurting the government.

The popular view that Mr Sharif is floundering has been reinforced by his failure to end power cuts lasting up to 16 hours a day during the heat of summer and by his 10-day visit to Saudi Arabia on a spiritual journey at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan…

In the poor Barakahu neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, Faqeer Khattak, a truck driver who voted for the PML-N last year, echoes common complaints about power cuts and electrical appliances being damaged by unreliable electricity supplies.

“Our fridge broke down and we now use it for storing shoes and clothes,” he says. “I will never vote for this party again because they have failed to improve conditions in Pakistan.”

Nawaz has responded to critics by echoing Asif Zardari and saying that Pakistan can only make progress if it continued to move forward on the path of democracy. Completing a term may have been a good enough goal for the last government (though it wasn’t enough to win re-election), but it certainly isn’t enough now.

Load shedding has reached historic levels to the degree that it is not merely an inconvenience but presenting an imminent threat to the national economy. This should be especially bothersome to the industrialist whose primary political asset is supposed to be his ability to manage the economy.

Nawaz is barely one year into his term, and already things appear to be falling apart. It’s not too early to lose control, but it’s not too late to save it either. If Nawaz wants to save his legacy, he needs to do something quick. It’s not hard to find the obvious answer, either: It’s Load Shedding, Stupid!

Load Shedding and Responsibility Shedding

Stealing power in KarachiNext time the lights go out, think about the fact that state agencies owe Rs70 BILLION in payments for electricity. Before we go making the usual complaints about corrupt politicians ruining everything, take a look at the list of defaulters

Supreme Court: Rs3.5 million
ISI: Rs8.2 million
IB: Rs2.7 million
FIA: Rs8.3 million
Punjab police department: Rs140 million
Islamabad police: Rs20 million
Rangers (Punjab): Rs52.25 million
Rangers (Sindh): Rs75 million

Of course the usual suspects are present also, Pakistan Railways, Senate, etc etc etc.

The point is that nobody is innocent. We all want electricity, but no one wants to pay for it. Dawn says that “the onus is on the government, which regularly raises power tariffs, to show the way and desist from its profligate use of electricity.”

Which is convenient, obviously. We’ll pay our share as soon as the government pays its share.

But we’re a democracy now.

Which means the government is us.

Time to pay the bill.

Beggars, Dacoits and Jalsas

In a curious attempt to appeal to national sentiments, Shahbaz Sharif claims that PML-N’s jalsa is a “war to save the country” from the present government which has made Pakistan into a beggar state “despite having nuclear weapons”. This begs the question, how do nuclear weapons make money?

I suppose one answer would be to use nuclear weapons as a threat to extort payments from other countries. But extortion is the work of dacoits, not beggars. Surely Shahbaz is not suggesting that we sink to the depths of global armed robbery. So, then, how does he propose that nuclear weapons solve our financial woes?

The fact is, nuclear weapons don’t make money, they cost money. And lots of it. Shahbaz has his complaint backwards. We’re not a beggar state despite having nuclear weapons. If we’re a beggar state (and I hate that insult), it’s because we have nuclear weapons. It was ZAB who famously said that “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own”. Perhaps that made sense when we felt that we could not allow India to hold nuclear weapons over our heads. But we now have over 100 nuclear weapons. And according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2011, we rank 125th for population in poverty. We got our own nukes. For how much longer must we continue eating grass?

I would actually take Punjab CM’s complaint and rephrase it.

Despite being one of only four polio endemic countries globally, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Despite having literacy rate of 57 per cent, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Rather than holding street rallies, why doesn’t PML-N provide some leadership on the issue? Why not ask how many nuclear weapons we need to feel safe so that we know when we can stop spending on devices to kill our enemies and start spending on programmes for loving our children. Instead of protesting against increased power tariff, why not protest against continued resistance to reporting and paying taxes by the privileged elites.

Pakistan is not a ‘beggar state’, but we are a state with severely misplaced priorities. We would rather be number one in nuclear weapons than number one in literacy. We would rather sit in the dark than pay taxes. We would rather complain in the streets than make difficult decisions in Majlis-e-Shoora. Being a nuclear state means that we have the resources and the intellect to get rid of things like polio and illiteracy. What we lack is political will.

Politicians love slogans about how it’s time for Pakistan to take responsibility for itself and stand on its own feet. Okay. But responsibility requires more than slogans, and standing on your own feet means having the courage to get off of your arse. So why, despite having the opportunity to help build support for spending reform and tax reform, PML-N is sitting in the streets chanting slogans again?

The other cause of load shedding

Destroyed Power Pylon

Babar Ayaz makes a good overview of causes of and solutions to load shedding in Daily Times. But as usual there is one major cause of power shortage that is conveniently left out of the discussion.

1 April

KOHAT, April 1: Unidentified militants blew up two electricity pylons in Bazid Khel area adjacent to the frontier region of the district here on Thursday night.

Officials said that due to the destruction of 132KV power pylons, electricity was suspended to Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan.

11 April

GHALANAI – Most areas in Safi Tehsil plunged into darkness after militants blew up two high-transmission power towers in the Mohmand tribal region April 11.

Explosives destroyed pylons in the Qayumabad and Bayankhel areas of Safi Tehsil, local residents said. Several parts of Mohmand and Bajaur agencies lost power, as did the Mamagat grid station.

29 March

The home secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani, a neatly suited, well-spoken man, sits in a dark and chilly office. Pens, staplers and telephones are neatly laid on the wide desk before him, but his computer is blank. The rebels have blown up a main pylon, he explains, so the power is off.

18 February

Meanwhile, militants blew up three power pylons in Razghar Mela, disrupting electricity to seven villages of Sheikhan tribe.

8 February

QUETTA: Most parts of central and northern Balochistan were without electricity due to the destruction of power pylons in the Aab e Gum area of Bolan district the other day.

According to the Qesco officials, unknown saboteurs blew up four power pylons shouldering 220 kv and 132 kv transmissions line in Aab e Gum on Saturday night, which caused disruption of electricity to 35 power grid stations in Quetta, Zhob, Pishin, Chaman, Noshki, Kalat, Khuzdar and other areas.

And what happens when militants blow up power pylons? The lights go out.

QUETTA: Owing to a shortfall of more than 800 megawatts, the Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco) has increased the duration of power loadshedding in most parts of the province.

The Qesco officials said on Saturday that unknown miscreants blew two power pylons shouldering 220kv power transmission line on Feb 18 late at night, near Bakhtyarabad which increased the power shortfall to 800mw.

Currently, out of three transmission lines only one transmission is operative. The Qesco officials further said that National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) which owns the pylons would launch repair work on the destroyed pylons after receiving security clearance.

The official also said that Saturday afternoon the 220kv NTDC power transmission line between Giddu and Sibi tripped due to a jumper failure causing power shut down in Quetta, Chaman, Pishin, Kalat, Khuzdar, Zhob, Qila Saifullah and other areas. The NTDC experts were able to overcome the fault in some three hours.

Every time NTDC has to use resources to repair and replace infrastructure destroyed by militants, it sets back progress on improving the infrastructure for generating and delivering electricity. You think militants don’t know this? No. This is a deliberate strategy to turn the people against the government when the fault is with the militants.

Why Imran Khan and his friends in JI can organize a protest to block NATO supply lines, but can’t be bothered to organize a protest against militants blowing up our own supply lines? Why SHC can issue orders to Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority to supply maximum gas to avoid loadshedding in Sindh and Balochistan but can’t do anything about militants who are knocking out the power pylons and causing load shedding in the first place?

Sure there are other problems that are factoring into the energy shortage. Some of those factors, like the rising price of fuel on the global market, we can’t do anything about. Other problems like theft should be dealt with, but getting rid of all the power theft would not get the lights back on. Before we complain about things we can’t do anything about – or tiny parts of the problem – we need to stop ignoring the role militants play in causing the whole mess.