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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Empowering Pakistan: Innovative Solutions for Change

Welcome to a visionary journey of transformation and progress. In 'Empowering Pakistan: Innovative Solutions for Change,' we embark on a mission to break free from the shackles of old paradigms and embrace a future where the people's well-being takes center stage.

Transitioning from the exploitation of the masses to their facilitation demands innovative, out-of-the-box solutions. The conventional approaches have proven ineffective, and persisting with them is akin to futilely attempting to revive a deceased horse. In the essence of democracy, which is fundamentally about the people, I distinctly recall a meeting with a highly respected politician who served as the Caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab a few years ago. During our discussion, I proposed that projects should be meticulously planned with active participation and input from the populace. To my surprise, he responded with the belief that “nothing worthwhile can happen if people get involved.” In other words, he sought to implement his vision without considering any external input. Such an approach is destined for failure.

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Several years back, I journeyed along the Coastal Highway in Balochistan, where the Science Foundation was undertaking a project in Basol, near the Naval base. The scenic drive constantly reminded me of California’s Pacific Ocean Interstate 1. However, a sudden road diversion jolted me from my reverie, caused by a section of the road being washed away by torrential rainwater. Astonished, I inquired, only to discover that the plans were devised in Islamabad by the National Highway Authority (NHA), with the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) tasked to construct the road, devoid of local input.

When the rains arrived, there was no provision for the water to safely pass under the structure, leading to its destruction. In the course of implementing the project, we endeavored to think outside the box by seeking information about underground water reservoirs, as we intended to utilize Wind Pumps for irrigating tree plantations. This was our initial effort to explore beyond the boundaries of the conventional. Regrettably, within the confines of the established framework, we encountered significant difficulty in obtaining the necessary information. In the land of the pure, confusion abounds both inside and outside the established norms. Most civilian institutions have regrettably ceased to function, necessitating a fresh start.

Facilitation is the linchpin of effective governance

In Pakistan’s formative years, officials genuinely assisted people in settling in their new homeland. These officers possessed empathy for the people’s plight and were eager to provide support in document preparation, property settlement, and organizational staffing. My late father-in-law, Shehzad Ahmed Khan, was one of the pioneering officers of the Pakistan Railway (formerly North Western Railways). To keep the trains operational, they faced a shortage of drivers and technicians. Officers would stand on platforms, seeking experienced help from arriving passengers, and the passengers responded with the same spirit. This collaborative effort ensured that trains kept running smoothly.

Up until the 1980s, Pakistan Railway remained profitable, with railwaymen at the helm. However, a subsequent decision by the military government to establish the Railway Ministry, led by a bureaucrat, and the transfer of the profitable freight business to the newly created entity, NLC (National Logistics Cell), marked the decline of PR, from which it has not recovered.

Over time, the ethos of facilitation has been supplanted by exploitation within the state apparatus. When WAPDA (Water & Power Development Authority) was established in February 1958, the primary focus was on hydel power generation. However, as no major dams were built after Tarbela, it was decided to unbundle the authority. PEPCO (Pakistan Electric Power Company) was established for thermal power generation, alongside NTDC (National Transmission & Dispatch Company) and several distribution companies (Discos). WAPDA was tasked with focusing solely on hydel power and dams, while IPPs (Independent Power Producers) received lucrative contracts in 1994 for thermal power production.

Since then, there has been no turning back. Every unit of electricity produced must be accounted for, and there are no more freebies. Just as everything has transitioned outside the conventional box, so too should payments. There can be no provision for free electricity for anyone. Policymakers will only appreciate the urgency when it begins to affect them personally. While the focus should shift towards affordable power, free concessions must be phased out. Tax collection should remain the responsibility of FBR, not Discos, and should not be included in electricity bills. Run-of-the-river power plants, coupled with the utilization of local Thar Coal, offer a viable path forward.

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I would like to share an intriguing anecdote involving power generation. There exists an 8-foot-diameter pipeline that carries water from Mangla Lake to Azad Kashmir. A local entrepreneur constructed a 1 MW power plant at this site. WAPDA refused to purchase the generated electricity, arguing that it was produced using water supplied by them. Undeterred, the innovative investor decided to establish his own steel industry, utilizing the cost-effective power he generated. He successfully transformed exploitation into a profitable venture. It is high time to introspect and also consider external perspectives, as confusion currently prevails.

The lack of direction and spirit is unsustainable, and affordable power and fuel are essential for survival. The baseline goal should be to achieve a per-unit cost of electricity below Rs 10 and gas below $10 per MMBTU, both achievable by exploring within the existing framework before venturing outside. With Thar boasting 175 billion tons of coal, it represents Pakistan’s energy future, needing full exploration and exploitation to meet the nation’s needs. The slogan “Thar Badlay Ga Pakistan” (Thar will change Pakistan) should guide our actions. Burdened power projects that yield little benefit should be phased out, providing much-needed relief to the masses. The era of the “Power Party” should come to an end, allowing only public-private ventures in the future. The success of SECMC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) should serve as a role model for future endeavors.

 

The writer is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at  fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.