The two struggling and loss-making power distribution companies (DISCOs) of Sindh are girding up their loins to avoid the sword of privatisation as the caretaker government seems adamant to outsource all such non-remunerative public organisations.
Recently, a team of World Bank officials met caretaker Federal Minister for Privatisation Fawad Hasan Fawad in Islamabad to discuss the government’s privatisation policy with specific focus on DISCOs.
Except for the Karachi Division, the two public power DISCOs in Sindh – Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) and Sukkur Electric Power Company (Sepco) – provide services in 23 districts where officials and unionists have been complaining because of an acute shortage of staff and proper equipment to run the utilities.
At the same time, they are being pressurised to ensure 100% bill recovery and eradicate decades-old problem of power theft.
Veteran labour leader and All Pakistan Wapda Hydroelectric Workers Union Central General Secretary Khurshid Ahmed, while talking to The Express Tribune over phone from Lahore, said that the government is acting on diktat of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and planning to privatise companies, which will multiply problems of masses as outsourcing of unprofitable organisations is not a suitable solution to such and other issues.
Read Defaulters owe DISCOs over Rs2tr
He said that Wapda used to work efficiently but the government formed DISCOs and inked agreements with independent power producers (IPPs) on the basis of ill-advised policies.
“Today, both staff of the companies and customers are paying the price of wrong strategies, which are scaling up power tariff and compelling customers to steal electricity to avoid high tariffs.
“What’s more, no appointments have been made for the last six years while every DISCO is facing a shortage of technical staff. Honest and laborious staff must be encouraged and black sheep should be punished to run organisations smoothly,” he said.
Hesco spokesperson Sadiq Kubar said that the government did never share the privatisation policy with the company, while the company recovered over Rs4 billion out of the total dues of Rs174 billion since September 7 during the anti-theft campaign with the support of Sindh police, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and revenue department. Moreover, the company is facing 38% staff shortage.
“It is for the first time in the company’s history that three other departments are fully supporting the utility to stop power theft and ensure recovery,” he said.
Sepco spokesperson Tufail Ahmed Soomro said that despite 30% shortage of staff, Sepco took action against 46 officials and sped up the recovery campaign as the domestic and commercial customers, and government departments owe approximately Rs171 billion.
“Nobody intends to buy any unprofitable organisation and even the government seems unwilling to outsource such companies which bristle with liabilities of billions of rupees,” a top official and policymaker of the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) said on the condition of anonymity.
“A majority of officials of power distribution companies are involved in electricity theft with the connivance of customers. This is generally being observed and that is why, law enforcement agencies have been working with officials of power utilities so that line losses and other unfair means could be eliminated,” he said.
The official added that rampant corruption has penetrated such organisations including Hesco, Sepco and others, while the country is facing a severe energy crisis. “DISCOs have to ensure 100% recovery and then the matter of privatisaion can be considered.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2023.
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