In an apparent reference to the Supreme Court judgment on the Rental Power Projects (RPPs), Prime Minister Gilani said, in his monthly TV programme “Prime Minister Online” on Friday, that the entire cabinet had approved these projects and the responsibility (for the debacle) should rest with it. He accused the media of trying to soil his reputation by pointing a finger at just a few decisions out of the “hundreds and thousands” he had taken. For the power crisis gripping the country for well over a year, he blamed those who had worked to make the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), conceived by Benazir Bhutto in 1994, a failure. The court cases against their installation drove their sponsors out of these ventures. Had there been no hindrance, he confidently remarked, there would have been no power shortage today.

The charges of large-scale corruption against those involved in the RPPs have now received judicial sanction, leaving little room to question them. And if it was the entire cabinet that had given approval to these loose and financially ruinous deals, it should voluntarily resign consistent with the traditions of democracy. The argument of picking up a few decisions for criticism does not bear scrutiny since whenever the government has faltered, the media has been quick to react according to the extent of its failure. Besides, the RPPs have drawn the ire of the entire society, as the fault lines opening the way to have a free hand in doing corruption were pointed out by experts, right at the time when the transactions were in the process of being concluded. Mr Gilani’s own cabinet colleague Faisal Saleh Hayat felt compelled to take the issue to the court; he was later joined by PML-N leader Khwaja Asif. The RPPs’ inability to remove the curse of power shortages or at least markedly lessen them has not left any resident of Pakistan and their businesses untouched. The rising fuel prices apart, the RPPs had made a significant contribution to the rising power tariff. Crippling shortage plus pinching tariff, with the ever present sense of corruption at the back of the trouble, is a dangerous mix that found its outlet in violent public demonstrations. The media could neither possibly have shut its eyes before the raging fires, wrecked vehicles and damaged government and private buildings, nor ignore the public plight.

Pakistan should explore all possible avenues of increasing electricity generation and immediately go ahead with the Iranian gas project. At the same time, the offer of supplying 5,000MW of power, no doubt tempting, from India must be turned down because of its record of violating commitments. The Energy Conference that according to the latest information takes place in Lahore on April 9 to deliberate upon measures to combat the crisis should prepare short-term as well as long-term plans to forestall the possibility of its recurrence. It should benefit from Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s claim that, given the charge, he could overcome the shortage in three years. The conference that would have representation from all regions of the country must rise above parochial sentiments and impartially consider how beneficial for the nation as a whole would Kalabagh Dam be. We are passing through, as the Chinese saying goes, interesting times. Only national spirit can help us deal with them successfully.