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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Nandipur debacle: A patriot who paid price for his love to country

Dr. Farid A Malik |

WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) was formed by an act of the parliament on February 22, 1958. It was a central body to cater to the water and power needs of the country. Successful completion of the two major dams (Mangla, Tarbela) was the hallmark of this organization while failure to build Kalabagh Dam has been the low point. In the mid-nineties the government of Benazir Bhutto allowed Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to generate electricity which WAPDA was required to buy at very unfavourable terms and then distribute it, circular debt started to raise its head as WAPDA was unable to recover the costs.

As always the World Bank through their friendly Prime Minister (PM) Shaukat Aziz decided to unbundle WAPDA into three independent entities. Only water and hydropower was left behind with the mother authority together with the task of building dams while thermal power generation came under PEPCO (Pakistan Electric Power Company) and transmission was assigned to NTDC (National Transmission and Despatch Company). Engr Munawar Baseer Ahmad a private sector professional was appointed the first MD of this newly formed power entity.

WAPDA was formed by an act of the parliament on February 22, 1958. It was a central body to cater to the water and power needs of the country.

For two years he worked in this capacity before moving on to Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) as its MD. He worked for five years in this position and became an important member of Musharraf’s energy team. He was then appointed Coordinator of the Planning Commission’s Energy Roadmap team where he worked tirelessly to secure the energy future of the country. As head of the Coal sector, I was a part of this effort. Mashal LNG project was his brainchild which fell prey to overstretched fangs of the then Chief Justice.

From power generation standpoint Musharraf’s performance was very dismal. Not a single megawatt of electricity was produced. He was misinformed and kept in the dark by his own ministers. Engr. M.B. Ahmed as he was called unsuccessfully tried to convince the General that both power and energy crises were imminent. Finally when both power and gas load shedding started the General called a cabinet meeting in which he was furious. M.B. was tasked to bail out. I advised him to take over on Chairman WAPDA with an additional charge of M.D. PEPCO.

Read more: Accountability court acquits Babar Awan in Nandipur reference

Being a thorough professional with a focus on results he took over the power company while the ‘Karwai’ driven bureaucrat Shakil Durrani was appointed to head the water and hydropower authority. Unbundling of WAPDA proved to be disastrous for the country. No major water-based project was undertaken by this proverbial white elephant authority. Under PEPCO the private sector was expected to produce power which they never did. Due to gross mismanagement by PM Shaukat Aziz and his team the country had to face serious energy and power crises.

M.B convinced the General for a major change of approach. He launched two Thermal Power Generation Projects (Nandipur, Chicho ki Malian) in the public sector under PEPCO. To meet the short term power requirements he signed the Rental Power Projects. He moved fast often overriding the bureaucratic hurdles as his focus was on results, not procedural complications. As MD PEPCO he signed a $ 329 million contract with a Chinese company to construct a 425 MW combined cycle power plant at Nandipur. Equipment was ordered which arrived at the port.

As always the World Bank through their friendly PM Shaukat Aziz decided to unbundle WAPDA into three independent entities.

With the new PPP government in place after the 2008 elections file was moved to the ministry of Water and Power for payment/approvals. There was a demand for kickbacks which the Chinese refused to pay. When speed money was not provided the delay mechanism was applied. The file was forwarded to the law department which sat on it. As crimes of omission are not punishable in a colonial set-up the project was delayed to death. After the elections in 2013 new players emerged on the scene. Chief Minister Punjab took control.

The Chinese were asked to come back which they refused, they were then enticed with better terms to return. Despite the fact that the equipment had arrived at the port a major cost escalation took place taking the final tally to over $500 million. The project was completed on fast track basis often bypassing the necessary procedural checks. Fed up with the conduct of the elected government M.B resigned as MD PEPCO to start his own consulting business.

Read more: Nandipur reference: Pervez Ashraf & Babar Awan to be indicted

We teamed up together we worked on the development of Thar as an energy resource for the country. When the unjustified cost escalation took place in the Nandipur Project he wrote a letter to the Chief Justice exposing the corruption of the two elected governments. Instead of going after the corrupt, the entire PEPCO team was included in the NAB investigation. Raids were conducted for arrests. As M.B. was out of the country he avoided arrest but all senior officers of PEPCO were arrested.

Later they were bailed out but the cases are still pending against them. NAB kept on raiding his house and harassing his family and personal employees. On June 25, 2019, one of the accused Dr. Babar Awan was let go while Raja Pervez Ashraf was denied relief. So far the PML-N minister in charge and the Chief Minister Punjab have not been called for investigation for this technical and financial debacle. The professionals who put in honest efforts to pull the country out of load shedding have been made to suffer for no fault of theirs.

MD PEPCO he signed a $ 329 million contract with a Chinese company to construct a 425 MW combined cycle power plant at Nandipur. Equipment was ordered which arrived at the port.

Despite massive cost escalations and mismanagement by the political leadership that came into power after the elections in 2008 and 2013 freely move around waving victory signs. At Rs. 42 per unit Nandipur produces power that no one can afford to buy. M.B. lived in self-exile in Houston where he was under serious stress which resulted in his liver malfunction. Finally, the family decided to move him back last year. Due to his failing health, Air Ambulance was used whose costs were borne by his health insurance.

Read more: Accountability for all: Raja Pervez Ashraf and Babar Awan indicted

Fearing arrest on arrival NAB waiver was obtained. He was moved to a private hospital on arrival in Islamabad where he expired two days later due to liver failure. In his untimely death, the country has lost a prominent professional and patriot who served his motherland to the best of his abilities by presenting affordable and workable solutions to meet the gas and power needs of the nation. He introduced Internet (Asternet) in the country, introduced Compaq the computer giant of its time remained MD of SSGC and PEPCO for extended periods.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has been robbed with impunity by the imposed political leadership. Those who tried were made to suffer while the corrupt have gotten away with their misdeeds. Till Nandipur is fully retrieved and put back on track, the legacy of the first MD PEPCO and the ones that followed will remain debatable, the heroes and villains of this debacle have to be separated and then punished for their misdeeds.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.