Resolving Pakistan's Circular Debt, Electricity Shortages
What do these common phrases mean? Let me start with "load shedding" first. Long and daily power outages are called "load shedding". "Load shedding" is supposedly an attempt to share a limited resource equitably among many consumers. In addition to insufficient installed capacity as the culprit, the dramatic increase in "load shedding" in the last two years is commonly also blamed on growing "circular debt" which results in significant under-utilization of power plants already in place. There is credible data to suggest that the deepening electricity crisis since 2008 has more to do with the independent power producers(IPPs) operating at less than 50% of their installed capacity because they can not pay for the fuel they need to produce more. The outgoing finance minister Mr. Shaukat Tarin acknowledged the problem of circular debt, and tried to focus on it. He even threatened to quit last year over the lack of resolution of this problem. However, he was only partially successful in paying down the government debt. He is reportedly taking a parting shot at the problem on his final day in office.
The key players in this "circular debt" trap are the federal and provincial governments as the biggest deadbeats, the power distributors like KESC, the power producers like Pepco and Hubco, and the fuel suppliers like government-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and partially state-owned Pak-Arab Refinery Ltd (PARCO). This debt circle begins with the government as the biggest debtor and ends with a government-owned entity as the biggest creditor. So the obvious question is: If the government is both the biggest debtor and the biggest creditor, then why is it that the government leaders can not solve the problem? Is it the lack of will? or the lack of competence? Is there a personal profit motive of the top leader of the ruling PPP, who is allegedly pushing rental power plants (RPPs) contracts ahead of the speedy resolution of circular debt? Is it a combination of corruption and incompetence? The answer to these questions depends on who you ask.
While you ponder possible answers to the question of resolving circular debt, let me share with you an interesting story posted by Naresh Goyal that explains circular debt and how it can be resolved:
It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.
Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town... He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 Euro note on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to choose one.
The hotel proprietor takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the pig grower.
The pig grower takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel...
The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the town's prostitute that in these hard times, gave her "services" on credit.
The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 Euro note to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.
The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 Euro note back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.
At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 Euro note, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.
No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.....
Clearly, the circular debt problem has assumed alarming proportions, threatening Pakistan's future. The IMF and the US officials in their recent meetings with Pakistan government have described the circular debt as a significant threat to the country’s economy.
After signing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of rental power plant (RPPs) projects in the face of harsh criticism, the government is finally starting to deal with rising circular debt to address power shortages. Outgoing finance minister Saukat Tarin recently told the News that “in real terms the circular debt has swelled to Rs108 billion which mainly includes non-payment of Rs42 billion by KESC, Rs21 billion by the government of Sindh and Rs15-16 billion from commercial consumers to the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco)".Just prior to leaving office, Tarin has decided to raise Rs. 25 billion as a small step toward settling a debt estimated at hundreds of billions of rupees.
Unless Pakistani government deals with the economics of power generation by boldly tackling the issue of growing circular debt quickly, it will be almost impossible to get the IPPs to fully utilize existing installed capacity, much less attract new investments in the power sector.
Tarin's Parting Shot at Circular Debt Problem
Circular Debt: Finance 3.0
Shaukat Tarin Resigns
US Fears Aid Will Feed Graft in Pakistan
Pakistan Swallows IMF's Bitter Medicine
Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy
Pakistan's Energy Crisis
Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance
Pakistan's Electricity Crisis
Pepco Increases Load Shedding By 5 Hours