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The Express Tribune Editorial 10 September 2020

Dewatering and KCR revival


An adviser to the Sindh government has said that rainwater in most localities of Karachi has been removed and faults in the sewerage system repaired because now there are no gutter overflows. It does not matter whether bright sunshine has evaporated the rain and gutter water or it is due to untiring efforts of the government. He also emphatically announced, on Tuesday, that encroachments across the city would be removed indiscriminately as it was unauthorised structures on and around stormwater drains that choked them with garbage.
This statement recalls to mind the recent statements of KMC officials that they would ensure that removal of encroachments did not render people homeless. The pronouncement came after people protested fearing homelessness during the recent campaign to remove illegal structures. The action was stopped after residents of affected areas protested. Even where earlier encroachments have been removed, the damaged pavements have been left unrepaired. This and accumulation of garbage have harmed businesses and many shops have shifted to other places. This situation has been persisting for the past several years.
The adviser has also talked about revival of the Karachi Circular Railway and criticised its inclusion in the Prime Minister’s Karachi Transformation Plan, insisting that since the restoration of KCR was part of CPEC, it cannot be included in the transformation plan. For the residents of Karachi and for visitors, the planned revival of KCR came as a ray of hope in a city where now public transport does not exist. However, the sad reality is that large tracts of railway lines have disappeared, and on KCR land, buildings have been constructed. It looks remotely possible to demolish such buildings especially when they come under jurisdictions of different organisations. One should buy the latest edition of gobbledygook dictionary to understand what politicians say.



Circular debt challenge


Circular debt remains the “biggest” of the seven challenges in Pakistan’s power sector, says a recent study conducted by Engro Energy Limited to identify problems in the power supply chain. Currently standing at Rs2.2 trillion, the circular debt is growing 60% annually and would be doubled by 2025, according to the study titled ‘Fixing Pakistan’s Power Sector’. It is no secret that low recovery of monthly bills and rampant power theft have given birth to the complicated circular debt which continues to grow at a rapid pace due to mismanagement and inefficiency, mainly on the part of the nine power distribution companies operating in the country. In addition to the permissible 16% line losses – which are recoverable from consumers through monthly bills – these distribution companies are incurring 12% losses on an average, including those due to theft.
It is the power consumers that are bearing the brunt of this mismanagement and inefficiency in the form of quite a few surcharges that continue to inflate their power bills. Pakistan produces the most expensive power in the whole world. The cost of power production in Pakistan for industrial consumers is 26% higher as against other countries in the region like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand. And for residential consumers, this cost is 28% higher than in the mentioned countries. This high power tariff – also a major hindrance to foreign investment in Pakistan – is also mentioned in the Engro report as the fourth biggest power sector challenge. The others are: excess production capacity (second), low demand (third), import of fuels to produce electricity (fifth), power outages (sixth) and need to expand transmission infrastructure (seventh).
On assuming power, the PTI government had vowed to nip the menace of circular debt in the bud. To the contrary, they have worked to increase it from Rs480 billion as of June 2013 to Rs2.2 trillion currently – an addition of Rs1.72 trillion in two years which comes to Rs71 billion a month or Rs2.3 billion a day.



Another new Punjab IG


The government has appointed yet another police chief in Punjab, the sixth man installed as the province’s top cop – or inspector general – in the PTI’s two years in charge. Shoaib Dastgir, a grade-22 officer, has been posted as the secretary of the Narcotics Control Division while Inam Ghani, a grade-21 officer, has replaced him. The change came after the PTI recently appointed Umar Sheikh as CCPO Lahore – i.e. the top cop for Lahore – apparently without even taking Dastgir on board. The appointment issue was exacerbated by the fact that Sheikh reportedly made some disparaging remarks about Dastgir’s impending retirement before an assembly of cops.
Despite reports that Sheikh later apologised while telling Dastgir that his remarks were taken out of context and all orders from Dastgir’s office are being implemented, the IG asked Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to transfer him. Incidentally, reports suggest that Sheikh was appointed at Buzdar’s request. The war of words also extended beyond high offices, with Dastgir telling a private TV news channel that Sheikh violated the rules by speaking against a commanding officer, and that Buzdar should have taken action against the CCPO when it happened.
Buzdar later defended the appointment of Sheikh by saying it is unacceptable for officers to reject the postings of others. Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz also chimed in, saying that such appointments are the prime minister’s prerogative and that anyone creating hurdles in implementing orders would be removed. PM’s special assistant Shahbaz Gill later tried to brand Dastgir as a failure. It seems Buzdar was trying to make it look like he sacked Dastgir because media reports had been suggesting that the CM was actually trying to convince him to stay on.
Meanwhile, both men’s tough talk was challenged within a few hours. Soon after Ghani’s appointment, Additional Inspector General Tariq Masood Yasin said he would not work under an officer who is his junior on the seniority list. He has also demanded a transfer. With all of this internal unrest, we must also point out that, at nine months, Dastgir was the longest-tenured IG Punjab since the PTI came to power. Let’s see if Ghani can make it a year.
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