THE outage of electricity that plunged the whole nation into darkness late Saturday night is a stark reminder of all that is wrong with our collapsing power sector: weak governance and an inept bureaucracy of power. Seven workers of the Guddu power plant have been suspended by the government, which is said to be the original cause of tripping that cascaded through the whole scheme, resulting in the automatic shutdown of generation plants in less than a second. An eyewash of an audit has also been requested, but it will not be enough to hide the long-standing problems plaguing the power sector.\
The three main companies involved, the Central Power Generation Company (which runs the Guddu plant), NTDC and the National Power Control Centre, have been working without permanent heads, according to a study in this article. For eg, for the last three and a half years, the post of managing director, NTDC, has not been filled. It’s not all that. The top positions in public sector corporations have been turned over to the all-knowing PAS officers after the government began introducing power-sector changes in the early 1990s and, in some cases, serving or retired generals, replacing the experts who should have been running the show.
No wonder that under those who know little about technological challenges, the sector has steadily deteriorated, triggering the accumulation of debt over Rs2.3 billion, increased T&D losses, energy theft, lower bill collection, lack of transparency and bad governance.
Power outages and collapses in nations are not unusual. For such events, there may be several reasons: biological, technological, environmental, etc. But the rising incidence of such late occurrences in Pakistan should be a cause for concern. While the PTI set-up has attempted to blame the current failure on the lack of investment by its predecessors in the T&D network, especially the PML-N, there are questions that need to be addressed. How is it that a system that holds almost 24,000 MW of power in the summer without any problems is not good enough to send less than half the volume in the winter? For that, there has to be some other explanation.
The government must understand that it won’t support electoral point-scoring. It’s not the first time that a Guddu power station fault has caused a major blackout. Many such incidents have existed, usually during winters. The fault lies in the manner in which decisions are taken in the power sector, giving more weight to the cost of generation (by providing cheaper energy from power plants located in Sindh and Balochistan to satisfy the demand of Punjab and KP) rather than taking expert advice.
There may be numerous ways to repair the badly run power market.But all alternatives to the existing power muddle foresee taking the bureaucrats’ power-sector positions and handing them over to those who have been prepared for them and with the right to make choices.