Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on Wednesday dropped a bombshell during the federal cabinet meeting, claiming that the Water and Power Ministry had no mechanism in place to evaluate actual quantum of load shedding and the gap between scheduled and unscheduled load shedding.
The assertion by the finance minister left Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and other cabinet members biting their nails as Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar did not contradict Shaikh’s claim. He even could not satisfy the prime minister with his answers and kept mum and confused over most of the questions raised by the cabinet members.
Resultantly, all cabinet members grilled the water and power minister, saying the ministry could land the ruling coalition in hot waters during the upcoming elections.
“But Shaikh did not stop here and rather he went on to claim that the PPP-led coalition government had injected Rs 1,000 billion to clear the circular debt, but could not do so and the issue was unaddressed due to poor recovery system from influential defaulters, either in public or private sector,” a member who attended the cabinet meeting informed Pakistan Today, requesting anonymity.
The source said Shaikh urged the water and power minister to install a monitoring system in the ministry to evaluate the actual power generation, gap between generation and requirement, schedule of load shedding, etc. “Shaikh also questioned the claim made by petroleum minister earlier that Rs 50 billion had been provided for provision of furnace oil. He said had the amount had been paid, all IPPs should have been producing power at full capacity and there should be no load shedding in the country,” the source added.
Shaikh said there was no solution to power shortage other than power conservation and for the purpose, there was a dire need to form a task force or monitoring system. “He also pointed out that some influential were behind strategy to keep prices of gas lower so as to get cheaper gas for power generation,” the source added. Shaikh also asked the Interior Ministry to use its muscle to recover the amounts liable from defaulters as line loses were a major dent for the country.
He also blamed provincial governments for poor recoveries and said even the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government had moved the high court against the federal government after power tariff was raised.
Prime Minister Gilani also supported the views expressed by Dr Shaikh and other cabinet members that the government was entering an election year and since all coalition parties had to face the masses, they should be kept abreast on power issue that could bring about a disaster for the ruling parties in the upcoming election. Gilani also shared his own experience and said that during 2008 elections, his opponent candidate was PML-Q’s food minister Sikandar Bosan. “During the elections, there was flour shortage and we made the same issue an election issue. We used to call Bosan ‘flour thief’. Despite massive development projects carried out by Bosan, I won the election,” the prime minister said. He said power shortage could do the same damage in the upcoming election to the ruling coalition.
The prime minister said whenever he had taken notice of power shortage, the power generation had improved significantly, which reflected that there was some fault with the Water and Power Ministry in dealing with the matter. He recalled that during the recent cricket match of Pakistan, he had directed the ministry not to observe load shedding during the match. He said that the entire day, there was no load shedding. “If we can avoid load shedding for a whole day, why we cant do so throughout the year. Same situation happened when during my visit to UK, when the president took notice of the power shortage and power generation improved. But the opposition claimed that the government had failed in resolving power mess and that was the reason that the president had to intervene,” the source quoted the prime minister as saying. Gilani also took the PML-N leadership to task for undermining the sanctity of the office of the chief executive of the country. “While I was abroad, some political leaders tried to undermine the sanctity of the office of the prime minister and urged their party workers to stage protest rallies, but they miserably failed due to the people’s commitment to democracy,” said the prime minister.
He said such politicians could not interpret the judgments of the courts according to their “own whims” and asked them to avoid influencing the courts by their “naive interpretation”. Talking about the relations with the US, the prime minister said the relations with NATO and US were passing through a delicate phase where “we need to take critical decisions keeping in view our strategic importance in the region and our national interest”. “We did not and will not compromise on our principled stand but would not take emotional decisions,” he added. Gilani said national interests would not be compromised while reviewing the NATO supply issue. About his appeal against the conviction by the Supreme Court, Gilani said, “Appeal is my right and I hope to get justice. I believe the justice will be served according to the constitution and I will defend the constitution at all cost.”
The prime minister said efforts would be made to provide relief to the common man in the next budget and achieve macroeconomic stability. Gilani gave guidelines to the Finance Ministry on the next budget‚ he said the budget should be people friendly and priority be given to alleviating the difficulties of common man and provision of relief. He said job creation through the next budget should be a top priority. The PM further said recommendations of the Energy Conference held in Lahore should be the guidelines for resource allocation for power sector to address the energy crisis.
The cabinet decided to expedite recovery of electricity dues worth Rs 300 billion against federal and provincial governments and the private sector. The prime minister said the Chief Election Commission would be appointed with consensus by adopting legal and constitutional procedure.