Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif ruled out speculations that the power shortage was a result of the oil crisis while saying that the outage was due to sabotage. However, people have been loath to believe this, because whether it’s from circular debt to massive line losses, the bureaucratic inefficiency of the sector is an open secret. Asif said that Pakistan State Oil has booked 12 orders, which means that it is not a question of there being no furnace oil to run plants. But the PSO is heavily indebted and no bank wants to give it a loan. Thus it is hard to believe the Minister’s explanation.

The facts speak volumes about the mess we are in. When a new project was proposed to add 10,000 megawatts to the existing system, it also meant more payments, more government guarantees and, when the output goes through a network with 25-30 per cent theft and losses, it means more circular debt. Privatisation hasn’t worked for the sector either as unionisation and strikes have made sure that inefficient staff cannot be rid. In Punjab, the union has often been accused of siding with corrupt workers in the event of inquiries. The only ray of hope has actually come from USAID. It is giving metre readers new handheld units that scan metres and automatically record readings. Any attempt to alter the readings will cause an automatic server enforced shutdown. USAID is on an extensive energy sector investment drive at the moment and one of the biggest investments is in Multan. The project has been offered to all distribution companies but some like LESCO haven’t accepted the offer. They don’t want interference; they want direct investment into the company.

One must remember that though corruption exists from the lineman up to the board of directors, the problem is less of corruption and more of inefficiency. The inhuman workload involved for many of the employees and engineers is also troublesome.

The PM has ordered an inquiry but forming inquiries, committees and commissions is an exercise in futility. Seeing as this government has a habit of leaving difficult problems to the army, it might surprise no one if the PMLN admits defeat on this one as well.