ISLAMABAD The federal cabinet Wednesday approved two weekly offs and several other measures to contain the incessant power crisis which continues to exact a heavy toll on the countrys economy. The special meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani deliberated on a number of other recommendations and gave the go-ahead to several measures, including closure of businesses after sunset, closure of marriage halls at 10pm across the country, conversion of street lights and billboards to LED lights and encouraging the use of energy savers instead of bulbs. Before that the special committee on energy headed by Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh briefed the Cabinet on the current situation and possible steps to improve load management in the country. The cabinet in principal approved a five-day working week in the federal government offices, but clubbed its implementation in provinces with the approval of federating units through the forum of the Council for Common Interests (CCI). The Punjab government is reportedly strongly opposing two holidays a week. Sources privy to the meeting said that departments under the federal government will be observing two weekly offs from October 15 anyways. The two offs would not apply to key branches of the countrys main banks to ensure that business activity is not hampered, they added. The cabinet also decided to issue warnings to big defaulters, both public and private, to clear their electricity dues in 45 days or else prepare to face suspension of power supply. However, the warning spares domestic consumers who use less than 100 units of electricity per month. According to sources an increase in the prices of electricity and gas was also discussed during the meeting. They said that Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Dr Asim Hussain opposed the cabinets proposal of two weekly offs. Talking to media after the meeting Dr Asim maintained that the two offs a week was not feasible as it would negatively affect productivity. Briefing the media about the Cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that the prime minister had directed all the ministries, divisions and departments to pay their electricity dues immediately, telling them that otherwise the power connections would be cut off indiscriminately, be it the President House, PM House or the office of the Army Chief. The prime minister offered that implementation of this decision would be started from the PM House. He said that due to non-payment of power bills, the outstanding amount has surged Rs250-300 billion. The finance minister said that the government in its tenure has paid Rs1,000 billion in subsidy to power sector. The cabinet also decided that a campaign would be launched for recovery of outstanding dues from private consumers within six months. Similarly, the provincial governments would also be made to pay arrears of electricity dues. Federal Minister for Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar informed the media that the meeting decided that commercial areas will be shut down and billboards and neon signs would be disconnected after sunset, marriage halls would be closed at 10pm and ordinary lights and bulbs would be replaced by CEL technology. He further informed that staggered weekly holidays for industry would be observed with the consultations of the business community. Meanwhile, the robust regulatory mechanism would be put in place and Nepra would be strengthened, he added. Naveed Qamar said that connections of defaulters of Wapda over 45 days will be cut off and two-month security deposits would be charged from new and defaulting consumers. However, lifeline consumers consuming electricity up to 100 units would be exempted from payment of security deposit. It was also agreed in the meeting that uniform tariff rate would be applied throughout the country. The government also decided that Pepco would be dissolved this month and professional management would be appointed in the power distribution and generation companies, he added. He further informed that possibilities would be explored of co-opting private sector in billing and metering of electricity consumption. He said that the cabinet has directed the Energy Committee to hold discussions with Balochistan and AJK governments to solve the issues of recovery and subsidy in their areas and the report would be submitted in the next cabinet meeting. Naveed also informed that the prime minister had directed the energy committee to come up with specific financial plan in the next meeting. He said that fast track installation of new power stations would be made and within next 18 months 5,000MW electricity would be added to the system, henceforward. He said that 1,000MW would be added through operating and maintenance, 1,000MW would be saved through energy efficiency, 1,497MW would be the new addition through thermal power generations and 1,000MW would be added through wind energy. To a question, the finance minister said that the federal government would take the proposal of privatisation of Iesco and Fesco in CCI meeting. Dr Asim said that due to the time constraints the summary of imposition of Infrastructure Development Levy (IDL) was not taken up in the cabinet meeting.