The premier has a panacea for the country’s chronic energy woes: printing more currency notes.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, chairing a cabinet session on Wednesday, suggested: “We can print currency notes and pump capital into the electricity sector in order to overcome load-shedding.”
While his suggestion caught ministers present in the session off-guard, Interior Minister Rehman Malik jumped in to endorse the premier.
Malik said there was no problem in printing money, and that a 2 to 3% rise in inflation, which would result from this action, “could be overcome within a few years.”
The cabinet had set aside its regular agenda to discuss power shortage in the country.
A cabinet energy committee – comprising ministers for finance, petroleum, water and power and information, Planning Commission’s deputy chairman and State Bank governor – was tasked to meet frequently to sort out the issue.
Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh assured his cabinet colleagues that financial support would be extended to the water and power ministry to eliminate unscheduled load-shedding immediately, and cut down scheduled load-shedding simultaneously. The cabinet decided to utilise the entire thermal and hydel power generation capacity in the country to achieve that goal.
Shaikh said that an energy monitoring control room would be set up in the water and power ministry which would have round-the-clock surveillance of the energy situation. A member of the cabinet energy committee would sit in the control room to monitor the evolving situation, he said.
The cabinet decided to deal strictly with theft and recovery issues in Wapda, but the finance minister said the authority does not have a system to gauge the amount of electricity required by different cities. He said that Wapda needs to develop a system to distribute electricity amongst cities, on the basis of demand.
Despite being asked several times, Minister for Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar could not answer a question on the amount of electricity produced by Wapda.
A heated debate over the issue of circular debt was also reported between the finance, petroleum and the water and power ministers. Hafeez said the ‘relevant’ ministers do not understand the issue and are trying to hold the finance ministry responsible for the whole mess by highlighting circular debt.
“It is easy for my colleagues to talk about an issue but difficult to understand it … the finance ministry has given Rs1.6 trillion roughly on account of circular debt, but has seen no results,” he said.
Reopening Nato supplies
While the cabinet endorsed the decisions arrived at Tuesday’s meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, it remained elusive on the issue of reopening supply routes for Nato.
The body gave a go-ahead to President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Chicago, to attend a Nato summit next week.
Sources said the DCC gave a green signal to lifting the blockade on NATO supplies on Tuesday, and that a Memorandum of Understanding is likely to be formally approved by the cabinet to implement that.
Addressing the ministers, the premier said the government does not want to take an ‘emotional’ decision which would not be beneficial.
The premier also appreciated the opposition for proposing names for the chief election commissioner.
Information on a decision on Nato supplies was not forthcoming from the information minister either.
Briefing the media about cabinet decisions, Qamar Zaman Kaira said no decision has been taken yet regarding the resumption of Nato supplies.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.