Sharif apologises to nation for power outage

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister on Tuesday apologised to the nation for a major, daylong power outage that disrupted normal life across the country and drew criticism from millions who were left without electricity amid the harsh winter weather.

Monday’s blackout engulfed schools, factories and shops, and many among people were without drinking water as pumps powered by electricity also failed to work. In key businesses and institutions, including main hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators kicked in.

Power was mostly restored, though some parts of the country still experienced blackouts on Tuesday.

“On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to the power outage yesterday,” tweeted Shahbaz Sharif.

“On my orders, an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure,” he said adding that the probe will uncover who was responsible.

At a press conference earlier Tuesday, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir defended the government’s handling of the collapse of the grid and lauded engineers and technicians for their efforts to boot up the system.

He, however, made no reference to the fact that an energy-saving measure by the government had backfired.

Minister for Energy, Khurram Dastgir Khan gives a press briefing following the nationwide power outage, in Islamabad on January 24, 2023. Power had returned to most cities across Pakistan on January 24, a day after a nationwide breakdown left the country without electricity. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Authorities had turned off electricity during low-usage hours on Sunday night to conserve fuel, according to an energy-saving plan. Efforts to turn the power back on early on Monday morning led to the system-wide meltdown.

“Today, at 5:15 in the morning, power was fully restored,” Dastgir said Tuesday. He blamed the outage on a technical glitch but also floated a “remote chance” that it was caused by hackers targeting the country’s grid systems.

The minister also expressed faith in Sharif’s three-member committee, which is expected to complete a preliminary investigation within days. “We will fully cooperate” with it, he said.

He cautioned that some regions may still face “routine power outages” this week as Pakistan’s two nuclear power plants and coal plants have yet to come fully online.

The outage was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in the power generation and distribution system. Pakistan gets at least 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27 percent of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation’s grid is about 10 percent.

Fawad Chaudhry, senior vice president of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, on Monday criticised the government for mismanaging the economy and said the outage was a reflection of the government’s incompetence.

Grappling with one of its worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves, Pakistan is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to soften some conditions on a $6 billion bailout.

Sharif’s government say the harsh conditions will trigger further inflation hikes.

The IMF released the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August but since then, discussions between the two parties have oscillated due to Pakistan’s reluctance to impose new tax measures.

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