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January 24, 2021

Privatisation of Wapda termed a security risk for Pakistan

Karachi

January 24, 2021

Terming the privatisation of the Water & Power Development Authority’s (Wapda) distribution and power generation companies a security risk for Pakistan, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani on Saturday demanded that the government cancel its entire privatisation

programme.

Addressing a news conference along with trade union and labour leaders at the Karachi Press Club, Senator Rabbani condemned the recent increase in the power tariff and demanded that the decision be withdrawn.

“Earlier, the government had increased prices of petroleum products unilaterally, which would affect the poor population and further increase the prices of essential commodities,” said Rabbani, who is also a central leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

He said that privatisation is being carried out under agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, but those agreements are being kept secret. “Basic infrastructure industries like power generation units are being privatised, which may become a threat to national security,” he remarked.

Rabbani claimed that the current government’s privatisation programme is unconstitutional because all the public sector companies under the federation come under the purview of the Council of Common Interests.

“Unfortunately, the government is supporting its crony capitalists and big private investors, and plans to hand over national assets to their friends. The government gave an NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] to the construction industry by providing attractive incentives to big investors and turning their black assets white,” he claimed.

“Three days ago another NRO was issued, which extended the incentive package to the construction industry for the next six months. But on the other hand, workers who play an important role in the development of the country are not provided any facilities.”

Instead, workers are being crushed through price hikes and other anti-people measures, he said. Rabbani claimed that the government has now decided to set up a separate trade union referendum in each distribution company of Wapda though a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). “It is an anti-workers and trade unionism step of the government.”

Senator Rabbani said that the government had earlier privatised K-Electric, which was sold to the private management on the condition that the new management would invest in infrastructure.

However, he pointed out, KE’s services were not improved and the citizens were still suffering. He expressed fear that the privatisation of Wapda’s distribution companies would also not bring any improvements in efficiency but rather aggravate the situation further.

All Pakistan Wapda Hydro Electric Workers Union (CBA) President Abdul Latif Nizamani and General Secretary Khurshid Ahmed said that the cabinet committee on privatisation has decided to privatise 10 distribution companies and four power distribution companies.

“Besides that, they have decided to remove 1,806 workers of the powerhouse. Over three crore [30 million] customers who are receiving power through the Wapda system in Pakistan would suffer, and power supply to domestic and industrial workers would be hampered,” said Nizamani.

He pointed out that Wapda’s performance is impressive, with its recovery at 100 per cent, but privatisation would be harmful to national economy and a large number of employees would be rendered jobless. An IMF delegation is coming to Pakistan in March and it is their precondition that 10 distribution companies be privatised, he said.

Akhlaq Ahmed of the KE Workers Union said that the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation was privatised on November 26, 2004, and only a day earlier had the Sindh High Court decided on the workers’ petition.

“KE’s privatisation results are very horrible. The workers had tried to resist and gone to court, as over 4,500 workers were removed from KE after privatisation,” he said. “The government is going to privatise national assets that should not be privatised. The government should learn lessons [from the past].”

Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, said that Wapda’s privatisation is one of the dangerous policies of the present government, because power is an important sector and it directly affects ordinary citizens.

“In fact, Wapda is suffering from incompetence and poor economic policies, corruption, nepotism and inattention of the federal government, but it is also a fact that it is a national body that is providing electricity to commercial and domestic consumers,” he said.

He recalled that in the past, private companies in Multan and Rawalpindi were handed over to Wapda due to faulty power supply systems of those companies, and that resulted in improvement of services, with hundreds in rural and hilly areas and millions of consumers having access to electricity.

Other speakers demanded that mutual talks should be held with the representatives of more than 130,000 Wapda workers, and the proposed privatisation process of all national institutions should be abolished.

They said that all the workers across the country are suffering due to spiralling inflation and Covid-19. They demanded that the government increase the salaries and pensions of employees of all government agencies, including Wapda, in proportion to the inflation, which has not been done for a year and a half.

The Peoples Labour Bureau’s Habibuddin Junaidi, the National Trade Union Federation’s Nasir Mansoor, the State Bank of Pakistan Democratic Workers Federation’s Liaquat Sahi, the NOW Communities’ Farhat Parveen, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Saeed Baloch, the All Employees Action Committee of Pakistan Steel Mills’ Mirza Maqsood Ahmed, the Port Qasim Authority Peoples Workers Union’s Hussain Badshah and other leaders were also present at the news conference.