The tussle between the management of the KESC and its workers, inevitable ever since the public utility was privatised, has now reached fever pitch. The two parties are at an impasse and it is the consumers who are suffering in the form of prolonged and sustained power cuts. The current situation is untenable. Both sides need to get together and hash out an agreement before the summer heat gets even more brutal. Too much energy has been wasted on blaming various parties for power breakdowns in Karachi and not enough spent on figuring out solutions. The truth is that there is plenty of blame to go around. There is as much as 16 hours of loadshedding daily in certain areas of Karachi. The story of how this situation came to pass is a long one that involves gross mismanagement of the KESC, a bloated workforce and unchecked power theft.
Placing all the blame for Karachi’s power woes on KESC is far too simplistic. The political parties, too, need to be held responsible for their role in the crisis. The KESC is a company that has been consistently losing money, with figures for the last nine months showing a loss of nearly Rs5.5 billion. To stop the bleeding, the KESC laid off 4,000 workers. Since these workers belonged to unions with political backing, they took to the streets protesting outside its offices and burning cars. All the workers were reinstated after the intervention of the government. On May 10, KESC workers took to the streets again which led to a halt in all maintenance work.
Then, the KESC also has to contend with the problem of electricity theft. This includes areas that get illegal power connections through bribery and subterfuge. The utility has tried to deal with that by having longer hours of load-shedding in areas with greater theft. There are also those who refuse to pay their bills. The KESC policy of publicly naming and shaming such people in newspapers failed as the accused were able to use their influence to avoid paying their bills. None of this is to suggest that the KESC management is without fault. Rather, if we are to solve the electricity crisis in Karachi, simply blaming one company is not sufficient. From the government to the consumers, everyone will need to get their act together to improve the situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2011.