It was the perfect setting. We had gathered on the historic occasion of the contract-signing for the construction of the 1,263 MW RLNG-fuelled Punjab Power Plant. The initiative will be wholly financed by the Punjab government out of its own resources and is the fourth largest gas-powered project that is being launched after the successful commissioning of the first phase of the Bhikki, Haveli Bahadur Shah and Balloki power plants of 3,600 MW cumulative capacity.
I took this opportunity to tell the amazing story of Pakistan – a story of the hard work, resilience and unmatched talent of our people. I wanted to tell the world how resolutely and professionally the PML-N government took on the challenge of massive power outages that had inflicted heavy losses on our economy, industry, agriculture and domestic households during the past 15 years.
Since the government took over four years ago, we have witnessed the speed at which work on the energy sector projects has been undertaken. The days and nights spent in thinking of ways and means to put an end to this chronic problem has enabled the government to arrest this serious challenge. By the end of this year or early next year, loadshedding will leave Pakistan forever.
The signing of the contract for the Punjab Power Plant represents a gigantic step forward in our efforts to drive a nail in the coffin of the energy crisis. This project is geared towards meeting the electricity demands of our industry, agriculture and economy. The power projects currently underway across the country and the megawatts that have either been added to the national grid – or are in the process of being added – are just enough to meet our current demands. But for various reasons – such as the needs for repair, the maintenance of the plants, the replacement of old and inefficient plants and the expanding electricity requirements of our economy – it is wiser to have surplus power available in our system for a stop-gap arrangement.
Around 810 MW from the 1,263 MW Punjab Power Plant will be commissioned to the national grid in 14 months from the date that the contract is signed while the entire project will come online in 26 months altogether.
Despite all the hurdles thrown our way during the past four years, we have come a long way. It is unfortunate and hugely dispiriting to see a segment of our media constantly churning out lies and half-truths and spreading speculations and misstatements. The standard line of argument employed by this section of media is that the Sharif brothers do not set up development projects unless they have lucrative prospects to line their pockets with commission and kickbacks. Together with some vested interests, they never tire of trumpeting the mantra that their development projects are an example of corruption and financial irregularities. This is done with complete impunity and without presenting proof.
Can the media name as many projects in the last 70 years like those started and completed by the PML-N government within the short span of four years? The gas-fuelled power projects of 3,600 MW, whose first phase is already in operation, will be completely inducted into the system by the end of this year. This is in addition to the power projects included in the CPEC basket, such as the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant, Port Qasim Power Plant and Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park.
How could this segment of the media forget the massive loss worth billions inflicted on the nation by the rental power projects? How could they turn a blind eye to how the machinery of the Nandipur Power Project rusted at the Karachi port while the file of the project lay in the drawer of a former PPP minister? How was the nation led up the garden path in the case of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam project? It is only now that the acquisition of land has been completed with Rs100 billion by the PML-N government.
The point I am making is that attempts to disfigure, twist and cherry-pick facts do no service to the nation. They will only darken our path. The media should have the courage to state facts as they are. I have no problem if your criticisms are justified. But what journalistic ethics also demands is that you should also tell the other side of the story. In the case of development projects completed by Punjab, the headlines of transparency and savings are too powerful to be ignored.
A heavy responsibility rests on our shoulders. First and foremost, we are Pakistanis and our other associations come later. I am not here to criticise my opponents. Instead, I’m here to drive home the point that each one of us, in our individual and collective capacity, has a responsibility to educate and sensitise our nation about the challenges that stare us in the face: the challenges of terrorism, political instability and corruption.
Our people, who have been fed on a diet of speculations, also deserve to be told that the projects directly linked to their economic survival – whose ground-breaking was performed only a couple of years ago – have been completed. The broad message is that everything is possible if we are honest in our intentions and committed to our goals. We will only make a respectable nation when we believe in our ability to work wonders and are respected by our friends and foes alike.
In the case of power projects, the Guddu Power Plant, which was constructed a few years ago, is an apt reference point. It was constructed at a cost of $836,000 per kilowatt. Compared to this, three RLNG-fuelled projects have been built at the cost of $470,000 per kilowatt. The Punjab Power Plant will incur Rs10 billion less as compared to three gas power projects. Likewise, the first phase of these projects came online in 17.5 months on an average but the first phase of the Punjab Power Plant will become operational in 14 months.
This is the story that a seeing eye has not seen and a hearing ear has not heard. The project will use the machinery of the highest quality to be supplied by renowned global firms such as Siemens and will be instrumental in producing cheap electricity that will directly benefit the consumers.
Punjab’s experience of setting up power projects at tariffs that are far below Nepra’s capping is a lesson in how we fight for each penny in an effort to save as much as we can to benefit the common man. Let us tell the outside world that Pakistanis are hard-working and honest people who have what it takes to work wonders and achieve excellence.
The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.