An energy conference in Lahore under Prime Minister Gilani’s chairmanship to be held today will try to find solutions to the energy crisis. It is hoped that it will not suffer the fate of previous conferences that concluded with big talk but practically contributed little towards reducing the shortfall. The participants must contrive to ensure that the entire installed generation capacity, which is sufficient to meet current need, must be produced. A well thought out plan can get the country out this mess permanently.

President Zardari has also issued a statement that industries in Lahore running on separate feeders should be declared exempt from power outages. While this must be appreciated, one would expect him to pay heed to Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s lament about massive electricity theft taking place in the country. Mr Zardari should also think of exempting the industries in Faisalabad, another industrial zone that has been hit hard by loadshedding. Mr Zardari’s statement that every effort was being made to grapple with the energy crisis does not fit in with the position on the ground since the supply and demand gap over the past four years has soared to alarming heights. Constant rise in electricity bills and the fuel surcharge have literally taken bread out of the common man mouth. Where the revenue from this extra billing is going to be is anyone’s guess since, neither the circular debt has been paid nor any other project has been launched. So far the government’s quick-fix namely that of RPPs has been censured by the Supreme Court that has also called for initiating a probe into the kickbacks and other financial misappropriation. Besides, these power plants have considerably spiked the country’s import bill since they run on furnace oil. If this is what the government thinks it has given to the people, then it should know that it has aggravated the crisis. At the time the PPP government took over the reins of power, it knew that the shortfall was among the country’s biggest problems. As it turns out, it has fared perhaps even worse than the Musharraf regime that did not add a single megawatt of energy to the generation capacity.

Keeping in view the fact that an increasing number of industrial units and entrepreneurs keep moving from troubled region particularly Karachi to Punjab, the federal government as a first step must give the province its due share of electricity. The President’s statement focusing on only one city’s industries would generate a perception that it is politically motivated and that he is turning his back on the rest of the province.