Saturday July 13, 2024

Pandora’s box

By Mansoor Ahmad
July 10, 2024
Representational image of a power grid. — Canva/file
Representational image of a power grid. — Canva/file

LAHORE: The decision to reconsider the increase in power tariffs for lifeline consumers shows that the budget was announced without proper homework. Reversing this decision could open a Pandora’s box as each affected segment would call for waivers.

Power tariffs in Pakistan are already complicated. The tariff increases with an increase in consumption. Changes in rates after certain slabs are crossed are irrational. Lifeline consumers are agitated because the additional consumption of only one unit over the 200-unit mark increases their total bill by over 100 per cent.

Earlier, their tariff would increase gradually from 50 units to 100 units, then from 101-200 units and again from 201-300 units. This time the jump after 200 units is steep.We must ensure transparency in our affairs. Lifeline power consumers have been unduly protected for decades. A state starved of resources cannot subsidize a major chunk of power consumers for long.

They have always been protected from tariff increases and logically cannot enjoy this facility forever. The least that should be done is to increase lifeline consumers’ tariff with every periodic increase in the general power tariff, while continuing the previous subsidy, but the subsidy increases if they are protected by every tariff increase.

The system is so unfair that many households including political families have commissioned 2-24 single phase meters on their premises. Legally it is not allowed to install more than one metre at one address. The first thing that the state should do is to remove all additional single-phase metres from all premises.

Another way to facilitate lifeline consumers is to gradually eliminate provision of free electricity to the employees of the state-run power sector. The government may start with a 25 per cent cut each year and pass on the benefit to lifeline consumers. Similarly, free power units allowed to the president, prime minister, chief ministers, MNAs, MPAs and judges should also be cut by 25 per cent, and benefits be passed on to lifeline consumers. Any other government functionary enjoying free electricity must also face this cut.

These savings would be enough to satisfy lifeline consumers who must be warned that from now on there would be a regular 1.0 per cent increase in their tariff for the next 12 months.The government badly needs resources, and it should cut the elite’s perks if it wants to appease the electorate.

Eliminating free electricity privileges entirely within the next 10 years should be the ultimate goal. Once high-ranking officials start paying normal power bills, inefficiencies in the power sector will automatically improve. Line losses will drop to normal because the elite will not be happy to share the burden of power theft in their bills.

Bill collection would be 100 percent; this is how it should be as nowhere in the world power consumers are providing power supply without clearing their power bills.Protests led by people against high power bills should be outside the premises of those who get free power and not at grid stations. This then disrupt power distribution to consumers who somehow pay their bills.