Upon my return from Cambridge, it seemed to me that after water-powered motoring, our inventiveness had gone beyond 3D technology to the three Es. That it was a catchphrase for a party-political platform was disappointing; the perfunctory content more so. The party chief’s rather charged statement is the only source of information. The website is silent. The first ‘E’ is for energy — doubtlessly, our number one problem — which a strong military government and a dithering political government have failed to tackle in the past 12 years. Economy, the second E, is also in a shambles but critically related to the ‘E’ for energy. So the two Es are essentially one. Like always, education is a poor third in the ordering of the Es.
Take the ‘E’ for energy first. The PML-N in power will settle circular debt in six months and ensure uninterrupted power supply within two years. The issue of circular debt is not simply a question of somehow arranging a large one-time payment to the suppliers of fuel to thermal units, which are the main source of power generation. Over a trillion rupees paid in the past four years have not resolved it. It is a stock as well as flow issue. The flow issue lingers on because even after being doubled, the electricity tariff is less than the cost by about Rs3 per kilowatt hour. Failure to fully recover revenue — mainly from public authorities — and prevent theft in the private sector complicates the problem. Losses because of inefficient generation and distribution are in addition. Will the PML-N end the subsidy involved and borrow to pay up? Will it double the tax revenue in six months? Or, is there a magic wand to reduce the cost of producing electricity in the aging system? Getting rid of the circular debt does not add enough power to end loadshedding. No major hydroelectric project in the pipeline is likely to be on stream before 2016. In two years, small additions from the ongoing projects of Mangla, Satpara and Gomal Zam are expected. New IPPs based on imported coal are likely to take longer than two years to produce. A more effective conservation and efficiency plan is a possibility but it is not enough. Rental power may not be to the taste of the PML-N. So, what does it have up its sleeves? And, where is a concrete plan to end gas loadshedding?
‘E’ for economy sees Pakistan in world’s top 10 economies through a package for industrialists and interest-free loans for the youth. Mercifully, no time frame was given to achieve this aim. According to the IMF data for 2011, in nominal terms, the difference between the GDP per capita of the Netherlands — the tenth best performing economy — and Pakistan was $49,134. Pakistan’s ranking was 148. Assuming best possible economic management and double-digit growth for Pakistan and zero growth for the Netherlands, eight five-year terms are required to bridge this gap.
Finally, education, the third E, was mentioned only in passing. The top 10 countries of the world place education above energy and economy. Their productivity varies with the quality and coverage of education.
In general, party manifestos are statements of intent. One does not expect solutions worked out in all their details. But the experience in Pakistan is that the manifestos are put aside as soon as a party assumes power. The people would like to know more — actually, a lot more, as to how a promise will materialise. The PPP’s five Es and the MMA’s claims are still fresh in memory. The PML-N itself hardly consulted its 2008 manifesto while spending billions in Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.