By Mehr Tarar
27 January 2015
The ongoing petrol crisis in Pakistan and its consequent handling is indicative of the modus operandi of the Nawaz Sharif government: governance of ad-hoc-ism, of crisis management. This system of governance is neither a new phenomenon in Pakistan, nor is the Sharif government the first one to practice it. Government after government has failed in the implementation of a solid structure of governance, and of establishment or empowerment of institutions. There is such an implicit lack of attention to the very basics of a structured system that it has become a manifestation of negligible, rather, a criminal neglect of issues, which should be a temporary hiccup in the mechanism of any country — even those labelled developing — but not a continuous way of operation. That, to me, is the failure of this government’s shoddy policies, which, at worst, display an ignorance of the enormity of issues, and their debilitating effects on the psyche — emotional, fiscal, infrastructural — of Pakistan.
Without even listing the statistics and logistics of different state-owned and — run institutions highlighting infrastructural, fiscal and administrative failures, the picture is quite abysmal. The electricity shortage — load-shedding — has become a way of life, as it worsened in the last one decade. An entire generation of Pakistanis bemoans how the Pakistan they know has never had uninterrupted electricity. Without enumerating the fiscal losses Pakistan has borne due to 6-12-hour in urban and 12-20-hour load-shedding in rural centres, the psychological effect it has had on the population — even the affluent class — is devastating. Now people measure their work and personal lives in terms of load-shedding hours, and while that plays havoc with daily wagers and small businesses, its impact is also colossal on the production and financial output of big businesses and industries.
Coupled with load-shedding of electricity does that of gas, the main source of fuel for domestic cooking and heating, also comprise a huge chunk of industrial energy. Entire industries have shut down because of the enormous cost of running machines on gas in the absence of electricity, and in the absence of gas, running personal power-generating units, which, in turn, need the rationed gas to run on. Domestic users, especially those from low-income group, go without gas for hours, unable to cook heat or use hot water.
In many areas, water is also in short supply, and the usage of electricity-run water pumps has turned a necessity into a luxury. In an agriculture-based country, this situation is a depiction of a very careless handling of resources and their output, and the onus of that is on government on all levels. Most of the villages have the look of the Dickensian era where darkness reigns supreme. In the backdrop of the depletion of the once-robust canal system, agriculturists are forced to use water drawn with artificial means, which, in turn, need electricity, and in the absence of which, a great deal of their revenues go into producing electricity: generators running on petrol or diesel.
And it goes on and on. It was one thing if Pakistan did not have the capacity to generate the required electricity or its gas resources — albeit limited in the long run — were inadequate to provide domestic and industrial fuel, or its rivers and canals had all dried up! Pakistan’s problem is…Pakistan. And here that stands for successive governments, their tiers of bureaucracy, and the endless line of personnel working in each state-run institution, run by equally incompetent ministers. The latest petrol crisis manifested that in all its shameful magnitude, as the crisis-management mode came into full play.
The system of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity is flawed from top to bottom, resulting in the shortfall of 7,000 to 8,000 MW in the summer. From enormous wastages in generation to shoddy transmission to electricity theft to lack of payment to the circular debt…you name it, and Pakistan electric supply suffers from it.
In a nutshell, the incompetence of government to implement a workable system for the dispensation of basics — water, electricity, petrol and gas — defies logic. To an ordinary citizen like me, it’s not rocket science. What does it need? Usage of the existing resources; enhancement of the same; proper technical management of the power, gas and oil-producing industry; a regularised system of payments; elimination of theft and corruption; investment in human resources to operate in sync with the new technology; devaluation of power vested in a few ministries, and institutionalised management replacing crisis management. Forget about going into the Mars orbit, Pakistan is catapulting into the Stone Age, as the basics become luxuries here.
Mehr Tarar is a freelance journalist based in Lahore