Friday, June 09, 2006

Switched off

Karachites have been suffering more than ever this summer with frequent and prolonged power outages. The situation has already led to violent protests by frustrated and angry residents in a few neighbourhoods and may yet escalate as warnings of disruptions deep into August are being sounded.

A creaking distribution network is the usual culprit, but this particular crisis appears to have been caused by the shortage of 200 MW of electricity at peak hours. The two power authorities at the heart of the problem, KESC (Karachi Electric Suppply Corporation) and WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority), have traded accusations over the reasons for the shortage, but suspicions keep growing that it has been contrived.

KESC was privatised last year as part of the government's ongoing privatisation process and this is the first summer that the new management has been in charge. It appears that officials at WAPDA, a government organisation, fearing that their organisation might be the next on the chopping list, are doing their part in undermining confidence in private sector management of electricity supplies. The unfortunate residents of Karachi are simply the pawns in this high stakes game.

Transparency International has labelled WAPDA as the second-most corrupt organisation in Pakistan, but there appears to be no political will to tackle the problem. Instead the government has decided to force traders and other businesses to close at dusk, thus compounding the misery of the city's shopkeepers and workers. The fact that the electricity shortages are most acute during the sweltering afternoons appears to have been overlooked by the government as has the fact that people are likely to shop on their way home from work.

The issue goes to the heart of the government's neo-liberal policies - all the privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation in the world can be scuppered by the lack of political will to effectively enforce the rules. And ultimately it's the consumers who will pay the price.

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