The News (Editorial): Power theft

Of all the different problems that are lumped together under the power crisis rubric, none is more eminently solvable than that of power theft. For as long as we are reliant on imported oil, the circular debt issue will persist while increasing power generation is difficult when there is no consensus among the provinces on building large dams. But making the effort to collect bills from those who use electricity requires only will and determination on the part of the government. An estimated seven billion loss is being incurred every day because electricity and gas are being stolen and the authorities have made no effort to collect the bills. This failure is due to corruption at every level. Meter readers are bribed and so underreport the amount of electricity and gas being used. Politically-connected industrialists are never taken on by governments that rely on them for financial support. The biggest evaders may be the government itself, as many state institutions see no need to pay their massive bills. A solution of sorts has been tried in Karachi where K-Electric (formerly KESC) only carries out loadshedding in areas that are suspected to be evading their electricity bills, the defaulters are named and shamed in the media and government agencies are taken to court. The problem lies in the fact that stolen electricity connections are more prevalent in low-income areas, and so the loadshedding predominantly affects those who need power most and can afford it least.

At least K-Electric is trying to devise novel approaches to this increasing problem, which is more than can be said for the government. Rather than tackling the issue of power theft, which in itself would ameliorate the power crisis to a large extent, the government is instead touting new projects. The Punjab chief minister has recently boasted of two new coal power projects in his province, which he claimed would add 6,000MW of electricity. What he neglected to mention, of course, is that a significant amount of this electricity will be stolen and that the project itself will take years to complete. As much as we need more sources of energy, immediate relief can only be provided if the government gets serious about bill collection and cracking down on illegal power connections. The same problem afflicts us in every facet of governance, from making sure people pay their taxes to holding government workers accountable for their corruption. The task is far from impossible but can only be accomplished if the will exists.


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