As, according to the government, the power crisis is supposed to have improved, the man in the street may be forgiven for wondering why multi-hour loadshedding occurs. At the same time, even though the hot weather has yet to set in, temperatures are beginning to rise. With an election date of May 11, it was inevitable that the poll would take place in the heat, but that it would be accompanied by loadshedding on a vast scale reflects not just the failure of the previous government to do anything, but also the inability of the caretakers to do their job. The caretaker government should not dismiss the energy shortage as something the elected government should handle. Not only is the caretaker government supposed to ensure that it solves the problems of the people, but also that it conducts the polls with as few problems as possible. It should be clear to the meanest imagination that the kind of loadshedding that will be taking place at polling time will adversely affect the process. Also, the caretakers would prefer to concentrate on the polls rather than tackle the rioting that the past tells us is inevitable, as temperatures rise, and the electricity-powered cooling devices cannot be turned on. Apart from the law and order challenge, there is the economic. The kind of loadshedding that has been seen, but which is continuing, will lead to cancelled export orders, closed factories and lost jobs.

To prevent this, the caretakers must be more proactive. Bold steps are needed, which cannot be left to the incoming government. The shortfall, according to a report appearing in this newspaper, has reached 3500 MW, and is likely to go up further. One consideration is that if the Kalabagh Dam had been built, it would have added 4500 MW to the system, thus covering the shortfall. This would be apart from its water storage and flood control functions. But the lobbies which oppose the dam do so because they want thermal generation to prosper, even though neither hydel nor thermal generation are substitutes for one another.

The caretaker government must realise that it must act as a careful steward by taking the measures needed to ensure that it does not leave as its legacy punishing loadshedding and a ruined economy. The energy crisis is so serious that it might overshadow the coming poll. The incoming government will have its hands full passing the budget and will prefer no loadshedding crisis as well.