It is a failure so spectacular that one is left with difficulty regarding where to begin describing the gross corruption and incompetence that has exemplified the Nandipur project. That Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally inaugurated the plant before it was ever finished — and that his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has been closely identified with the project — suggests that the government’s energy policy is in a shambles, and is in dire need of a reset. The errors appear to have started with the need of the PML-N top brass to maintain absolute control and micromanage everything. Despite not having any jurisdiction in the matter, the Punjab chief minister appears to have been successful in appointing a bureaucrat to the post of managing director while the project was still being constructed, despite the fact that it makes little sense to have anybody who is not an engineer supervise the construction of a power plant. From this fateful decision, matters seem to have just kept on getting worse. The unqualified higher-ups of the project made the predictably disastrous decision to order a furnace oil treatment plant too small for the needs of the 525MW dual fuel combined cycle power plant. This was done despite the project apparently having at its disposal a team of 40 to 50 engineers and technical staff. But they were apparently not consulted when this decision was taken.
To cover up this and other ghastly errors, the higher-ups seem to have wanted to give the operations and maintenance of the plant over to a foreign company and appear to have been willing to pay an exorbitant amount of public money for this. The result of all of this incompetence is that the government now has a $500 million, 525MW power plant that stands in the middle of a region that desperately needs electricity, but is absolutely unable to use it. The problem did not start with the Nawaz Administration, but it was firmly within its power to salvage the situation and be part of the solution to Punjab’s energy shortages. Instead, the administration failed. The Nandipur debacle is important not just because of the enormous waste of public money, nor because of the delays or incompetence of the staff involved. It is important because it is a scathing indictment of the management style of a government that seeks to concentrate power into the hands of a very small circle of close confidantes of the ruling party’s bosses and the small number of bureaucrats they trust.
A nation of 200 million people cannot be personally run by such a small circle of rulers. That they were unable to run a project in a policy area — energy — that has been identified as crucial to their party’s political future suggests that the Nawaz Administration had better shift course swiftly, or else face electoral oblivion. The tribal mentality that dominates the leadership of the PML-N needs to change. The PML-N’s top brass needs to learn to trust again, even if it has been twice betrayed in the past, and learn to value competence over loyalty, or else it will run the country and its economy into the ground, and along with it, the political future of the ruling party.
The prime minister won a massive electoral mandate on the promise that he would solve Pakistan’s energy crisis. While he has made some efforts in moving the country in that direction, there is a long way to go and he cannot afford to be distracted by the predictable disasters that come from a failure to delegate responsibility to the right people. We believe the prime minister is sincere in his desire to solve the problem. But he needs to realise that his own style of governance may stand in the way of his success.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2015.