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September 22, 2020

Public furore mars Nepra hearing on KE inefficiencies

National

September 22, 2020

KARACHI: Yet another public hearing organized by Nepra on Monday to deliberate on power distribution arrangements of the metropolis, succumbed to public furor, political jibes, mismanagement and ended prematurely and inconclusively.

The session was overwhelmed with slurs exchanged among the participants, Nepra authorities and KE huddle. The political leaders, on the other hand, present in the hearing to lead the discourse and arguments were pitted against each other instead.

Some of the participants, incensed by the inexplicable support for KE from individuals present in the session, claimed that the KE had planted its moles to disrupt the hearing and continue its monopoly on power distribution.

Nepra invited public hearing regarding change in terms of KE’s power distribution license. The agenda of Nepra’s public hearing was proposed changes in the terms of K-Electric's power distribution license. The regulatory authority is of the opinion that neither the KE has upgraded its distribution system nor expanded it. It said that consumers suffer heavy loadshedding, safety issues and over-billing.

The chairman Nepra, before commencing the session, said, “Today we are not here to make any decision. It’s only fact finding mission.” In 2018, when the Nepra act was amended, he explained that such proceedings started and in the Nepra act’s Section 21, the exclusivity was abolished and more companies could be given chances for power distribution. He said the Supreme Court on September 1 gave orders to conduct the hearing in public interest.

The top 15 commentators were randomly given a chance to speak at the public hearing. Former president of Karachi Chamber of Commerce Siraj Qasim spoke highly against the KE’s performance and said that if their monopoly was abolished in the city, the rest of the business community was ready to set up new power distribution companies. He also asked not to entirely ban KE.

A representative of Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT) started reading out a speech about how much the power utility was supporting them through their CSR programme for the last eight years in health and education sectors. “We [KE and LRBT] serve underprivileged and disadvantaged of this city,” he said and was interrupted by NEPRA chief Farooqi to make his point clear about the exclusivity rights of power distribution in the city to KE.

Dr Basit from Indus Hospital shared how the power utility was supporting the underprivileged population with the Indus Hospital and helping them build their infrastructure. He asked if KE was deprived of its exclusivity, whether the new companies will support them in a similar manner.

To this, Farooqi pitched in and said that if there’ll be more power distributors, there should be more CSR activities and support to charitable organizations. Participants were overheard saying that the power utility was shaming such renowned charitable organizations, by bringing them at the hearing and asking them to speak in its favour.

Ironically, a supporter of KE from Machar Colony, Muhib Ullah, stood up and shared how they don’t have any problem of power outages in the area and KE has made some good investment in the colony. The chairman moved to listen to KE’s stance, but the hearing was disrupted as slogans were chanted against the power utility, forcing the chairman to take a 30-minute break. JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said that it was a “regular phenomena” of the power utility to bring its own people and create chaos.

When the meeting kicked off again after a brief chaos, chairman Nepra, Tauseef H. Farooqi, sarcastically called the sole power provider of the city “Robin Hood” during the session. It is pertinent to mention here that under the Nepra Act 14A, National Electricity Policy and Plan, the federal government after approval from the Council of Common Interests can prepare and prescribe a national electricity policy for development of the power markets. The Nepra, under the National Electricity Policy and National Electricity Project, will perform its functions.

Addressing the hearing, KE CEO Moonis Alvi claimed the city's sole power supplier had boosted power infrastructure by 104pc. The KE, he said, has reduced losses by 16pc and consumer growth has been 9pc. He said that the power-supplying company has invested more than what was required under an agreement with Nepra.

The company chief claimed that there were "350 loss and very high loss feeders in Karachi". The chairman Nepra, while speaking to K-Electric CFO Ghaziani, asked what steps the company took to improve the power supply during the year. "You say the investment in the loss-making areas will be affected if the profitable areas are removed. What are the steps in the next three years that will improve the power supply," he asked, terming the K-Electric "Robin Hood". In response, the CFO said the company has made an investment of $25 million for the next three years, noting that it would help "improve areas that face loadshedding".

MQM-Pakistan leader Khawaja Izharul Hassan made a late appearance at the hearing and said how he presented a resolution stating that there should be other companies besides KE, which was passed unanimously. Referring to Nepra, he said that they allowed the KE for six-month theft recovery under consumer service manual. “Because of the manual, every third consumer of the city has paid six-month fines for more than one year,” he said. As for the industrial consumers, he said, they have paid more than Rs1.6 billion fines. Moving forward, he said that Nepra can do regulation of generation. “Under Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power Act, 1997, they have all the powers,” he said adding that Nepra can interpret its laws. Noting that no one had approached the consumer court, the MQM-P leader said the K-Electric committed the "biggest violation" of the users' rights.

JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said that while the KE claimed to have made 75-percent of the city loadshedding free, whenever the temperature of the city soars to just 34 degree Celsius, even the exempted areas suffer power outages, sometimes even unannounced. He pointed out that it has rained unprecedentedly only this time, but whenever only a drop of rain falls, there’s power breakdown in the entire city. In case of rise in humidity level, he said, there’s power failure across the city. During winter, he said, there’s power failure due to gas pressure and for the rest of the year, there’s power failure for maintenance purposes.

He also pointed out that they don’t have access to KE’s supply and demand of power. “We only know what they tell us,” he said and asked what happened during the lockdown and peak of COVID-19, when the entire city and industry was shut down, why there was load management. He asked why didn't the K-Electric work on earthing before the Nepra notice. As for cases of overbilling, he asked why there’s no organization to monitor the performance of KE’s meters.

Meanwhile, Humaira Khan, representing Karachi's upscale Defence Housing Authority (DHA) neighbourhood, said that the KE CEO warned her against speaking about the matter during the hearing. "Moonis Alvi threatened me that if I talked too much, the electricity supply in my area will not be resumed," she said.

"Even today, as a punishment, our area is without electricity," the woman lamented. "We have no personal enmity with the K-Electric," she said, adding that her recommendation was for more electricity-supplying companies just like there are those that sell mobile SIM cards.

PPP former Sindh’s governor Kamal Azfar in the session blamed the MQM for selling the KE and now pretending to be sympathizers of public. Back then, he said, whosoever, dared to speak against them, there was a slogan ready for them ‘jo qaid ka ghadar, mot ka haqdar’ [the traitor of the leader, deserves death]. To this, Khawaja yelled “shut up” and there was again a chaos in the hall, which ended the public hearing.