On Aug 31, Nepra, the regulatory body that is supposed to protect and safe guard the interests of the consumers, held its ritual public hearing at the Fleet Club, Karachi, which has become more of a Marriage Hall than a Naval Club. The four-member Nepra panel, comprising of acting Chairman, Ghiasuddin Ahmed and members Shoukat Ali Kundi, Habibullah Khilji and Khawaja Muhammad Naeem, had invited electricity consumers of Karachi to register their grievances against KESC and discuss its request for a monthly tariff increase of 17.55 paisa per unit against fuel adjustment cost for the month of June.

KESC was represented by Abdul Rauf Younus, its Regulatory Affairs Director and those who spoke on behalf of the consumers included, Dr Qazi Ahmed Kamal, member, SITE Association and Advisor on Consumer Affairs, Helpline Trust, Chaudhry Mazhar Ali, KESC Shareholders Association, Abu Bakr Usman, Director and General Secretary, Pasban Helpline, my friend, Arif Bilwani, a general consumer and myself. Both KESC and the consumers presented their long and lengthy ‘for and against’ arguments with the usual ‘Zeal and Fervor’, with Dr. QK taking the lead, ably followed by Arif Bilwani. They presented their objections forcefully and accused Nepra for failing to protect the interests of the consumers.

For the record, Nepra’s mission statement, as posted on its web site http://www.Nepra.org.pk/, states: ‘We shall strive to develop and pursue a Regulatory Framework, which ensures the provision of safe, reliable, efficient and affordable electric power to the electricity consumers of Pakistan - We shall facilitate the transition from a protected monopoly service structure, to a competitive environment and shall maintain a balance between the interests of the consumers’.

While according to Nepra’s Guaranteed Performance Standards (Distribution) Rules, 2005, KESC is restricted to no more than 60 unplanned power supply interruptions, no more than 88 hours of unplanned power supply interruptions, no more than 16 planned power supply interruptions and no more than 80 hours of  unplanned power supply interruptions in a year.

It is obvious that KESC is making a mockery of these guaranteed standards and Nepra, instead of exercising its duty of guarding the interests of the consumers, which is its primary duty and penalizing KESC as per its rules, it is playing the role of a post-office and is meekly accepting KESC’s tariff petitions and forwarding them to the federal government.

I wish to add that I have attended numerous Nepra hearings on these issues in the past, but it seems that most of the suggestions submitted by the consumers are never taken into consideration by Nepra.

As such, the consumers have lost their confidence in Nepra and feel that these hearings are just an eyewash to appease the consumers and an exercise in futility. I had suggested to the Nepra panel that, to ensure transparency, they should include a senior member from FPCCI, KCCI, SITE Industry and a consumer in their panel.

At the same time, the Law Foundation, Helpline Trust, Shehri and a group of concerned citizens had filed a Constitutional Petition in July 2009, against Nepra in the SHC, for the unlawful and illegal electricity tariff increases being allowed to KESC. During the court hearings, our lawyer, Javaid Siddiqui advocate had challenged the frequent increase in the electricity tariff and argued that the tariff increase allowed by Nepra to the utility service was unlawful, illegal and sub-judice, as the matter was under discussion in the Honorable Court.

He had pointed out that the power company was charging fuel adjustment charges, (FAC), on the entire power supply to the city and that the imposition of FAC on the entire consumption was contrary to law, unreasonable and unconstitutional. He had stated that the government provided a subsidy to the power utility service of Rs. 36 billion, but the benefit of this subsidy was not passed on to the consumers.

He had further added that NEPRA was established to protect the interests of the consumers, but instead, it was violating its own guidelines and rules and was allowing KESC to raise its tariff on misleading calculations and information.

He had argued that the management had failed to improve the distribution system and electricity tariff increase was aimed at burdening consumers with the line and distribution losses, “so that inefficiencies in KESC could be protected, by shifting the financial losses on to the consumers”.

KESC’s team of ‘Highly Qualified’ lawyers had tried to juggle the figures and convince the court that 2+2 were making 8, but Advocate JS challenged the figures and proved that according to KESC’s own charts, 2+2 were actually making 4 and the management was simply manipulating the figures.

Dr Qazi Ahmed Qamal had also made a very positive contribution in the court hearings and it had taken him and our ‘Citizens Committee of Experts’, almost nine months to unravel and decipher piles of reports, charts, calculations, etc. before we could get to the nitty-gritty of the matter and the truth.

They had gathered all the relevant information and prepared his notes in a lucid and logical manner and managed to expose the misinformation and the misleading arguments presented by Nepra’s lawyers. 

The data prepared by the good doctor were so focused, that the counsel for KESC stood in dumb silence, while Advocate JS dissected and demolished the reasons for which KESC was asking for a tariff increase. By the time JS was through, KESC’s lawyers had no clue as how to counteract or what to say.

On the basis of the above arguments, the court had given the following judgment: ‘Stay Order against KESC tariff increase to be extended until August, 2010 - Fuel adjustment charges cannot be passed on to consumers from April, 2010 - The appointment of an independent power expert to verify Fuel Adjustment Surcharges as submitted by KESC to Nepra’.  The fact that the Nepra hearing was held on a Friday and had to end before one o’clock and the next hearing is to be held in Islamabad, thus making it difficult for consumers to participate, exposes the none serious attitude of Nepra.

Where lies the truth now, is for the experts to assess, but in the meantime, it is the consumers who are suffering and having to face the continuous load shedding and the high cost of electricity. (email:trust@helplinetrust.org)