‘Immediate end to blackouts not guaranteed’

Express April 22, 2010

ISLAMABAD: A thorough implementation of measures finalised by the national energy summit will only reduce the intensity of power cuts to a ‘manageable’ level but their absolute elimination might take up to three more years, a top official said.

Water and Power Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf told the federal cabinet here on Wednesday that the proposed actions are primarily aimed at conserving energy and enhancing the utility of installed capacity. But a cabinet member told The Express Tribune, the minister said even the full execution of these steps would not guarantee the immediate end to long hours of power cuts.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani chaired the meeting that approved several agreements related to Pakistan’s bilateral trade with various countries. “It looks like the menace will continue to linger on,” a federal minister said of the loadshedding that has of late been triggering riots across Pakistan and denting the government’s popularity. The government had set two deadlines to end load-shedding: first December 2009 and the second, June 2010. One of these was missed and the other one is likely to meet the same fate.

The power shortfall, at least two other ministers confirmed, would still remain around 1,500 megawatts (MW), declining from an existing over 5,000 MW, to haunt household consumers and, to some extent, the industry as well. Ashraf said only one-third of the gap between electricity’s demand and supply could be bridged by adopting all the recommendations prepared by the summit.

According to estimates he gave to the cabinet, up to 3,700 MW shortfall can be managed through the conservation strategy as well as addition to installed capacity. Official statistics suggest up to 20,000 MW capacity is installed in Pakistan but the total generation is little over half of it due to rising circular debt, use of old-fashioned plants and heavy reliance on furnace oil rather than gas which is comparatively a cheaper fuel.

The National Energy Summit underway here in the federal capital has proposed two weekly holidays, closure of commercial centres at sunset, advancing of clocks by one hour to make maximum use of daytime light.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will share with the nation the outcome of the summit that was attended by top officials from the federal and provincial governments and representatives of multilateral global donors investing in Pakistan’s power sector. Raja said the government would not increase power tariff for the time being because it can trigger a backlash by the public that is already out on the streets to protest the load-shedding.

The government was to raise power tariff by six per cent this month under an obligation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But Raja said the government is resisting the pressure and it is likely to be deferred by at least three months. “We don’t want to burden the public any more at this stage,” a minister quoted Raja as telling the cabinet.

Meanwhile, the cabinet took note of the mushroom growth of unplanned inhabitations in the country and asked the provincial governments and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to ensure proper town planning. The cabinet approved signing of the regional agreement on trade in services during the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit scheduled to be held in Bhutan later this month. The cabinet granted approval to the draft “Intellectual Property Rights Organization of Pakistan Bill, 2010,” which will be laid before the parliament.

The cabinet granted approval to start negotiations for memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the National Language Authority and the Academy of the Persian Language and Literature of Iran.

The cabinet further approved signing of financial and technical cooperation agreements 2007-2008 between Pakistan and Germany. The cabinet accorded its ex-post facto approval for the proposed “State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2010.” It also okayed a proposal to renegotiate the Pakistan-Czech Republic bilateral investment promotion and protection treaty.