Pakistan Reader# 665, 11 September 2023
On 6 September, Power Minister Muhammad Ali and Information Minister Murtaza Solangi announced a “crackdown” on electricity pilferage, that has been identified as a major cause for inflated electricity bills. Among the numerous factors contributing to the exacerbated price of electricity, theft stands out prominently, as it is fuelled by corrupt elements within the various agencies responsible for power distribution across the country. According to data from the Power Division, electricity theft has inflicted a staggering loss of PKR 500 billion on the national exchequer. As part of this plan, since 8 September, provinces began undertaking several measures to filter out those who had been using electricity illegally.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's purposive stance
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa launched a robust three-day campaign, amounting to a significant reshuffling of officials within the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco). During a recent three-day campaign, approximately 500 illegal power connections were dismantled, and cases against 250 individuals were forwarded for the registration of First Information Reports (FIRs). Pesco spokesperson Usmal Saleem, emphasized the importance of this campaign and stated, “The crackdown was launched on Friday last and would continue till uprooting power theft in the province.” The authorities have made commendable strides in curbing this issue, with power thieves beginning to remove illegal connections and settle their dues.
Lahore's efforts to suppress power theft
On 8 September, there was internal reshuffling within the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) to tackle power theft. A massive reshuffle of officers and heads of field formations up to Grade 19 has been initiated. This reshuffling includes the transfer of officers directly or indirectly involved in facilitating electricity theft. As part of this strategy, 200 connections implicit with power theft were detected by Lesco teams, with individuals involved ranging from former politicians to influential figures. Lesco CEO Shahid Haider emphasized, “We will also take action against all those officers if found involved in facilitating people to steal electricity.” The multipronged approach was stern in order to restore severely dwindling public trust.
Sindh's clampdown against power theft
In alignment with the federal government's plan, Sindh is poised to launch its crackdown on power theft, targeting high-loss commercial, agricultural, industrial, and domestic connections and defaulters. A task force, chaired by the Sindh home secretary, has been formed to devise a strategy for a focused and sustainable campaign against electricity theft. Home Secretary Iqbal Memon highlighted the importance of the proposed initiative while stating that “Indiscriminate action will be taken against electricity thieves and wilful defaulters of electricity bills.” The Sindh government has also put forth the proposition of creating district enforcement committees to address the problem with swift and efficient measures.
The spiralling cost of capacity payment
Apart from the immediate crackdown on power theft, Pakistan's power sector faces another critical challenge - the escalating cost of capacity payment. It is projected to reach a staggering PKR 3.766 trillion per annum by FY 31, constituting 75 per cent of the total electricity bill. The predicted rise in prices that are needed to offset the debt indicates a threat to consumers of various categories being able to afford electricity shortly. To reduce this impact, the Power Division has put forth a comprehensive plan to address the financial gap on “old proposed measures with new words.” While emphasising that failure is not an option for the caretaker government given the commencement of this crackdown, the Power Division laid out a National Electricity Plan. This Plan contains short, medium, and long-term actions to be implemented in different provinces based on the amount and cause of the debt. Some measures mentioned include an anti-theft campaign, a drive for energy conservation, and privatisation of Discos.
“Major reshuffle in Pesco as drive against power theft continues,” Dawn, 11 September 2023;
Imran Ayub & Tahir Siddiqui, “Sindh govt all set for crackdown on power theft,” Dawn, 11 September 2023;
Mushtaq Ghumman, “Caretakers likely to ease the woes of power sector,” Business Recorder, 11 September 2023;
Khalid Hasnain, “Massive reshuffle in Lesco amid anti-power theft drive,” Dawn, 9 September 2023;
“A way to control electricity theft,” Dawn, 8 September 2023