Enough is enough. All is bad in the power corridors in Pakistan. Now, the government should fire at least five higher echelons of the power sector. They should fire more. The Federal Minister of Power & Water, Minister of State for Water & Power, Federal Secretary Water & Power, Adviser Power, and NEPRA’s officiating person for sending inflated electricity bills to consumers in the past two months.

The former is one of the stalwarts of PML (N). The latter is related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Later, the two were inherited from the previous regimes. The last one has to be appointed. Nawaz Sharif could save his government from the Dharna in Islamabad’s Red Zone but could not escape from the electricity fiasco created by inflated bills sent to consumers. If he has any hope of rebuilding his image and his government’s shattered credibility, he must reform the electricity sector.

The Cabinet meeting on 22 September could not solve anything. They think that meter readers are the culprits. Is this the collective wisdom of the Federal Cabinet? Who recruited these meter readers – opposition and sit-in protestors? It is still the government’s responsibility to hold people accountable. They should fire the meter readers, along with the high-ups sitting comfortably in their plush offices. The whole electricity regime must be revamped. It is entirely corrupt, and affects every citizen in the most direct way. The first PML (N) financial scandal has unearthed the extent of corruption rampant. It now demands drastic reforms and transparency.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have the courage to dismiss the entire electricity regime. Instead, he has formed the investigation committee under Dr Mussadeq who should not be sitting at this post at all any longer. His appointment to the post of Power Adviser holds nil merit. He is a pharmacist by profession and his qualifications and experience have nothing to do with electricity. Why on earth was he appointed?

Energy expert Arshad H Abbasi time and again protested his credentials but the Government did not pay much attention to this. Was it really necessary to pay homage to the caretaker government and give thanks for his three month service?

According to one report, the electricity per unit tariff is the highest in Pakistan. It is US$ 0.17 in Pakistan, US$ 0.13 in India, US$ 0.09 in Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka and US$ 0.073 in Vietnam. This is injustice. We are unjust to our poor masses. Poor, middle classes, and the rich are all strained by the high electricity tariff.

While a clerk’s monthly salary is Rs. 16,000, he receives an electricity bill of Rs 18,000. A shopkeeper who used to get a Rs. 1500 monthly bill now gets a Rs. 10,000 bill. Can you run a government and society on this equation? This is reflective of the worst management in the country. Somebody has to take the responsibility to clean up this electricity mess.

The government has constantly increased the electricity tariff under IMF pressure. A more expensive tariff was created for large consumers. Theft is now more prevalent. Why should a poor household consumer pay for the theft losses? Is it not the duty of the Government to stop that theft instead of collecting Chanda from all over the country in the name of said losses? Why must we pay a Rs. 35 TV license on each meter installed even without a TV physically installed? This was the government theft imposed during the time of Shaukat Aziz. Why is this ‘sublime legacy’ so sincerely maintained? Is there any moral or legal answer to any of this?

Moreover, the FBR imposes a 7.5 % sales tax and 17% GST. We have to pay the Neelam-Jhelum surcharge of Rs. 1.50 on each unit consumed. Now the flood tax is coming up. The inaccuracy of billings is not just incidental but deliberate to cover up the inefficiencies of the Water and Power regime. Meter readers and officers of WAPDA in Katchi abadis collect huge undocumented bills in the name of Chitis (slips).

Has any action been taken so far? If not, why? This is the WAPDA system. This chiti system runs in all Katchiabadis in Islamabad – the seat of the Federal Government, and all over the country.

Not only the political writ, but the government’s electricity writ is also challenged and nothing has so far been done. The state has failed exponentially in the distribution and collection of electricity bills. With this policy in action, circular debt to the tune of Rs. 500 billion will continue to hit the economy of Pakistan and poor consumers will suffer.

n    The writer is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He is a political economist.