Even after spending nearly a month enveloped in darkness there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Karachi’s suffering citizens. There will likely be no clear winner in the ongoing dispute between the management of the KESC and its workers but, as temperatures soar to about 40 degrees, the city’s residents have lost. Blame can and should be apportioned to both sides but the workers’ union has erred in taking its activism too far. Without electricity, Karachi cannot function and by refusing to fix faulty cables and other technical problems, KESC workers have only added to the loadshedding. Even more troubling are allegations that the union has now formed mobs targeting KESC’s ability to fix problems.
The root of the problem lies in the sacking of 4,000 KESC employees. In this economy, every job lost is a tragedy but for years the electricity company has been overstaffed, leading to record losses. As long as KESC was a public entity, the losses were eaten up by the government. However, they soon mounted to the point where privatisation was the only viable option. Even then, it was understood that streamlining the workforce was an essential part of necessary reforms. Bitter a pill it may be, but it has to be swallowed. In the interests of the public, the union must end its strike and allow Karachi to function again.
The government’s role as an honest mediator also leaves much to be desired. At a hearing earlier this month, the Senate laid all the blame at the feet of the management. Many senators openly called for KESC to be renationalised, a move that, based on past experiences, will do nothing to improve the power situation. The involvement of the government in talks between the management and the union has not led to any breakthroughs. At the very least, the government needs to provide protection to KESC installations and arrest those attacking them, even if they turn out to be union members. Karachi’s record-breaking heat is bad enough; we don’t need to also set records for power breakdowns.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2011.
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