As Pakistanis discuss the major causes and crippling effects of the worst ever power crisis in the nation's history, "loadshedding" and "circular debt" are two key phrases that have entered the vocabulary of average people in Pakistan during the last few years. Due to the anger of the people and their disenchantment with the energy policy of the Zardari government, Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf was seen as a convenient scapegoat and has been ousted from the Ministry where he was ensconced by the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership not because of his expertise in either the power or water sector, but to explore various existing and potentially beneficial avenues. The hiring of rental power plants at preposterous and non-transparent terms was one such beneficial avenue. The Asian Development Bank found the rental power deals stinking to high heavens and denounced the same in the following words: The provision of a government of Pakistan guarantee and a high down payment post bid is a major change under any prudent procurement guidelines as it changes the financial, equity and project risk profile in favour of the seller. It may have been possible for the buyer to have gotten better terms if the new package had been put to the market. This, combined with the acceptance of unsolicited bids diluted the transparency, competition and equal treatment that an ICB process is intended to ensure. In other words, the government of President Zardari had violated the 10 commandments. Small wonder then, that despite wooing, no foreign investor is willing to even consider visiting Pakistan to examine various profitable investment opportunities. Stoic in nature, the Pakistanis are accustomed to believing half-truths and falsehoods when these are repeatedly stated by the highest government authorities. Rental Raja Ashraf had promised the end of loadshedding by the winter of 2009. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani repeated the commitment on the floor of the National Assembly. However, he lacked the courage to tell the nation the whole truth and the people believed him. In addition to the poor utilisation of the installed capacity, the dramatic increase in "loadshedding" in the last two years is mainly due to the growing menace of "circular debt", which currently hovers around Rs400 billion and results in significant under-utilisation of power plants already in place. There is credible data available with NEPRA to suggest that the deepening electricity crisis since 2008 has more to do with the independent power producers (IPPs) operating at less than 50 percent of their installed capacity because they cannot pay for the fuel they need to produce more. The key players in this "circular debt" trap are the federal and provincial governments as the biggest deadbeats, the power distributors like KESC, the power producers like Pepco and Hubco, and the fuel suppliers like the government-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and partially state-owned Pak-Arab Refinery Ltd (PARCO). This debt circle begins with the government as the biggest debtor and ends with a government-owned entity as the biggest creditor. So, the obvious question is: If the government is both the biggest debtor and the biggest creditor, then why is it that the government cannot solve the problem? Is it the lack of will or competence? Is there a personal profit motive of the top leadership of the ruling PPP, who caused violation of the 10 commandments and is allegedly pushing rental power plants (RPPs) contracts ahead of the speedy resolution of circular debt? Is it possible for the stoic people of Pakistan to believe that a combination of corruption and incompetence has been at play with a complete disregard for the consequences? In June 2007, the power cuts in Pakistan lasted no more than three or four hours a day. Today, in extremely hot weather, Pakistanis have to endure loss of electricity from 10 to 18 hours a day. Industrial production is suffering, exports are down, jobs are being lost, and the national economy is in a downward spiral. By all indications, the power crisis in Pakistan is getting worse than ever. The extended electricity loadshedding in Karachi's five major industrial estates is causing losses in billions of rupees as the production activity has fallen by about 50 percent. KESC, Karachi's power supply utility, is dealing with a shortfall of around 700MW against a total demand of 2,200MW. Almost all forms of power generation from fossil fuel-fired thermal to hydroelectric to nuclear are down from a year ago. As a result of the daily rolling blackouts, the economy, major exports and overall employment are also down and the daily wage earners are suffering. The KESC and PEPCO owe massive amounts of money to the independent power producers, forcing at least three of them to invoke sovereign guarantees. The shameful masquerade of resolving the circular debt issue in the Ministry of Water and Power, Ministry of Petroleum and the Finance Ministry continues. The prolonged - announced and unannounced - loadshedding is leading to power riots in Karachi as well as in other large and small cities of the country. The image of police baton charging protestors flashed on foreign TV screens does not convey a favourable impression of Pakistan. Notwithstanding such harsh realities, the government in all its innocence wants to create a soft image of Pakistan abroad. Rental Raja Ashraf was a minister handling a single track assignment. Nothing could deter him from getting rental plants. He was not interested in exploring cheap alternative energy sources that were available to Pakistan. Unlike many other countries, Pakistan is fortunate to have high wind speeds near major centres. But despite the project being feasible, the lack of government interest has been suffocating its growth; no foreign investment is forthcoming. The transfer of wind turbine technology from neighbouring India could open up thousands of job opportunities, besides providing cheap power to the economically oppressed people of the country. Apart from lack of government interest, Pakistan does not have meaningful financial incentives available for those who want to install wind turbines or solar panels. But if the government of President Zardari follows through with an aggressive renewable energy push, Pakistan could be an Asian leader in renewable energy given its natural resources of wind and sun. n The writer is a Member of the Civil Service.