Tackling Increasing Power Theft in Pakistan

"Do your fasting, pay zakat (charitable donations) and serve your parents, but do these things by the light of legal electricity." Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO)

Peshawar's electric utility has published full page advertisements in major Peshawar newspapers to appeal to its customers' religiosity in the holy month of Ramadan to stop stealing electricity and pay their bills.

According to news reports, PESCO ads exhort the local power consumers to do the right thing by citing religious edicts as follows: "Clerics have ruled that doing good deeds by the light of stolen electricity is against sharia, so let us stop using stolen electricity and beautify our day of judgement."

A combination of deadbeats and power thieves brazenly flout the law by not paying for electricity they use. Many of them are often politically powerful or connected to political bosses who protect them from the law. Some even shamelessly assert their right to steal electricity and refuse to pay bills. The state-owned power companies' employees are often corrupt and complicit in perpetuating the problem which is hurting the entire country. As a result, Pakistan's power sector and its fuel supply chain have been crippled by years of underinvestment, leaving people to endure blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in scorching summer heat.

The problem is widespread. It may be bigger in Peshawar but it is certainly not limited to any one particular city or province. In Islamabad, the nation's capital, it's fairly common for people living in large luxury homes to bribe corrupt utility officials to cap their monthly bills to just Rs. 1000 ($10) regardless of how much electricity they consume.  It's a key reason for Pakistan's worsening energy crisis. By some estimates, more than 40% of the power generated in Pakistan is not paid for.

It can be argued that the power theft is just one manifestation of the fraying moral fiber that is responsible for much of what is wrong in a country where religious fervor has been on the rise particularly since 1980s. Pakistan has rapidly climbed Transparency International's corruption rankings with more and more Pakistanis wearing religion on their sleeves. Symbols of religiosity like beards and hijabs are far more common in Pakistan now than I ever saw when I was growing up in the country in 1960s and 1970s.  Violence against fellow Muslims has also grown along with increasing religiosity. Huqooq-ul-Ibad have been almost completely ignored as Huqooq-ul-Allah have dominated religious discourse in the country.

KESC (Karachi Electric Supply Corporation), Pakistan's largest city Karachi's privately held utility, has started to reward those who pay and punish those who don't. It's a collective reward and punishment scheme to deal with the problem in Karachi. Areas where there is 80% money recovery see almost zero load shedding, 70% get a couple of hours of power cuts and those with less than 50% endure very long hours of black-outs. This policy has helped KESC reduce power theft from about 40% a few years ago to about 28% now  It has also resulted in about 50% of Karachi being supplied uninterrupted power.

There are many steps the new government can take to reduce power theft and improve revenue collection in the power sector. Here are a few of them:

1. Lead by example. All government ministers, top officials and members of national and provincial legislatures should pay their bills.

2. Implement the KESC's Karachi policy in more cities and towns to show consumers the benefits of paying for electricity by rewarding those who pay and punishing those who don't.

3. Deploy technology such as remotely read automated smart meters (AMR) and pre-paid electric meters (remotely shut-off when accounts run dry) to track consumption accurately and control electricity flow.

4. Appeal to people's deep religiosity to fulfill their obligations of paying for what they use. Encourage mosque leaders such as imams and khatibs to reinforce the message through their daily and weekly sermons.

5. Enforce the law. Cut off power to the delinquent consumers. Use police and paramilitary forces to remove kundas, illegal hooks slung over power lines to steal electricity in broad day light.

There is little hope of fixing the worsening crisis without strong action to improve the finances of the power sector to attract more investment.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Blackouts and Bailouts in Energy Rich Pakistan

Remembering Huqooq-ul-Ibad in Ramadan

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

Circular Debt and Load Shedding in Pakistan

Twin Shortages of Gas and Electricity

Corruption and Incompetence Hobble Pakistan Power Sector


Riaz Haq said…
A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam. Then the Death Threats Began.


JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — For most of his adult life, Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi worked among the bearded enforcers of Saudi Arabia. He was a dedicated employee of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — known abroad as the religious police — serving with the front-line troops protecting the Islamic kingdom from Westernization, secularism and anything but the most conservative Islamic practices.

Some of that resembled ordinary police work: busting drug dealers and bootleggers in a country that bans alcohol. But the men of “the Commission,” as Saudis call it, spent most of their time maintaining the puritanical public norms that set Saudi Arabia apart not only from the West, but from most of the Muslim world.

A key offense was ikhtilat, or unauthorized mixing between men and women. The kingdom’s clerics warn that it could lead to fornication, adultery, broken homes, children born of unmarried couples and full-blown societal collapse.

For years, Mr. Ghamdi stuck with the program and was eventually put in charge of the Commission for the region of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Then he had a reckoning and began to question the rules. So he turned to the Quran and the stories of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, considered the exemplars of Islamic conduct. What he found was striking and life altering: There had been plenty of mixing among the first generation of Muslims, and no one had seemed to mind.

So he spoke out. In articles and television appearances, he argued that much of what Saudis practiced as religion was in fact Arabian cultural practices that had been mixed up with their faith.

There was no need to close shops for prayer, he said, nor to bar women from driving, as Saudi Arabia does. At the time of the Prophet, women rode around on camels, which he said was far more provocative than veiled women piloting S.U.V.s.


The Unexpected Reformer

The first time I met Mr. Ghamdi, 51, formerly of the religious police, was this year in a sitting room in his apartment in Jidda, the port city on the Red Sea. The room had been outfitted to look like a Bedouin tent. Burgundy fabric adorned the walls, gold tassels hung from the ceiling, and carpets covered the floor, to which Mr. Ghamdi pressed his forehead in prayer during breaks in our conversation.

He spoke of how the world of sheikhs, fatwas and the meticulous application of religion to everything had defined his life.

But that world — his world — had frozen him out.

Little in his background suggested that he would become a religious reformer. While at a university, he quit a job at the customs office in the Jidda port because a sheikh told him that collecting duties was haram.

After graduation, he studied religion in his spare time and handled international accounts for a government office — a job requiring travel to non-Muslim countries.


Kaust followed the precedent of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, which had also been shielded from clerical interference, highlighting one of the great contradictions of Saudi Arabia: Regardless of how much the royal family lauds its Islamic values, when it wants to earn money or innovate, it does not turn to the clerics for advice. It puts up a wall and locks them out.

Most clerics kept quiet out of deference to the king. But one member of the top clerical body addressed the issue on a call-in show, warning of the dangers of mixed universities: sexual harassment; men and women flirting and getting distracted from their studies; husbands growing jealous of their wives; rape.
Riaz Haq said…
Dastgir inaugurates advanced metering infrastructure at IESCO


The Federal Minister for Energy Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan inaugurated the first-ever data centre of Pakistan for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) at the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO).

“State-of-the-art services will be provided to electricity consumers as per their requirements.

Elimination of theft, further improvement in electricity delivery and not transferring the burden of electricity theft to consumers by obtaining accurate data is our top priority,” the minister said while inaugurating the data centre.

The minister further said that the energy industry has always needed modern technology and the government has started the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) in all power distribution companies (Discos) in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

IESCO’s AMI is a big project of Pakistan, he said, adding that the federal government is mulling shifting the public buildings from grid to solar power. “Various solar projects are underway in different parts of the country for getting low-cost electricity; it will be easier for Pakistan to progress through it.”

The minister said he had issued instructions to all Discos to shift the meters of commercial, agricultural, and bulk consumers as well as high-loss feeders and transformers to AMI meters. C

hairman Board of Directors of IESCO Engineer Qamar-ul-Islam Raja said the completion of this project will further increase the sale of electricity and timely recovery of dues would boost the financial position.

The establishment of an operational centre and a modern metering lab is also a part of this project, which will further improve the operational efficiency of IESCO, he said.

Speaking at the event, IESCO Chief Executive Officer, Dr Muhammad Amjad Khan, said this project will provide the company with accurate information and boost consumers’ confidence. He also said that apart from IESCO’s head- office, a backup data centre will be set up in Gujar Khan to deal with any emergency.

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