Energy crisis, devolution and political obligation discussed
KARACHI, Nov 28: One thing missing in all development plans and policies related to Pakistan is the population of the country, said Zaid Alahdad, a development consultant and former director of operations at the World Bank and the World Bank Institute, on Wednesday.
He was speaking at an interactive talk, ‘Integrated energy policy formulation with emphasis on social dimensions’, organised by the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC).
What began as a discussion on energy and its implications for Pakistan turned into a lively discussion on urbanisation and devolution as well as verbal jousting of the donor agencies.
Attended by town planner Arif Hasan, former city Nazim Mustafa Kamal, economist Kaiser Bengali and quite a few representatives of the business community and regional media, the session highlighted the repeated failure of the present and past governments and the lack of ‘political obligation’.
In her opening remarks, Khalida Ghous, managing director of the SPDC, said that economic growth was always tied to energy consumption. The event was aimed at understanding the implications of the energy crisis given that ‘there is a correlation between energy consumption and economic growth’.
Moderated by former senator and state minister Javed Jabbar, the proceedings were initially slow with Mr Alahdad giving an informative and equally overwhelming account of Pakistan’s energy blues.
“In 1967, Pakistan was touted as one of the countries from the third world that was likely to join the first world within two years,” he said, drawing a wide-eyed response from the younger lot.
A country of some 180 million people was facing a severe energy crisis, he said. All analysts would agree that Pakistan’s crisis was linked to uncoordinated efforts.
Giving a breakup of the fuel consumption in the country, he said the biomass used as fuel remained out of the policy makers view as there was no concrete data available on the number of households depending on it.
“Only consumers on the national grid are taken into account. The picture changes drastically when you take into account the 50 per cent poor people of this country. The household energy actually becomes your main consumer,” he said.
“Rather than focusing on industrial energy plans, we need to focus on their needs too. There was the national integrated energy planning in the 1980s, but it was abandoned. Despite the fact that Pakistan is one of the few developing countries that have always been a front runner in adopting new ideas, we have been jumpstarting for the last 60 plus years.”
However, things started to gain momentum once the floor was opened for discussion.
“Rather than a lack of planning, we have a complete lack of planning. We go from scheme to scheme, looking for short-term solutions,” said Kaiser Bengali.
Pointing out the lack of proper rail cargo service, he said: “Our biggest import is POL, 55 per cent of which is high-speed diesel used for truck fuel. If we move from trucks to rails, the bill will automatically go down. We constructed a port in Gwadar, but never bothered about a rail or road network there.”
Former city nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, expressing his frustration on the lack of accountability and political will, said: “As a political science student and political worker, I feel it’s less about political will and more about political obligation that is much needed for change.”
He then dwelled on the post-18th Amendment scenario.
“What we have here is a halfhearted devolution. In place of a one-headed monster, we now have a five-headed monster. Earlier it was the federal capital, now we wait for approval from the provincial capitals,” he said.
“What never happened after the devolution is the trickle-down effect where an individual feels empowered enough to get his issues sorted.” Mr Bengali remarked: “It took the country 65 years for devolution from federal to provincial; you cannot expect further devolution in 65 weeks.”
Arif Hasan said there were policies but they were not being implemented. “The old institutions worked well because there was a well-defined relationship between the politicians and bureaucracy and governance was there. That relationship has eroded with time.”
He continued: “It’s our refusal to change that has led to this failure where these relationships are undefined. There can be no real definition unless we accept this country has changed.
“Local government is no more just people. It is now the traders’ bodies, the businessmen, and many more people. We have to undertake research to realise the needs of people.
“My own conclusion is that unless we go into a public sector reform protest at the provincial level, we are not going to deliver.
How that reform protest should be managed, there are many options that need to be looked into,” the town planner concluded.
The audience also shared their ups and downs with the donor agencies where at times many sustainable energy solutions were blatantly turned down.
“I was heading the BISP (Benazir Income Support Programme) and back then the World Bank asked me to take a technical assistance loan. I said no and the bank had me removed,” said Bengali much to the audience’s surprise.
Another thing that was apparent was the strong undercurrent of ethnic/nationalist feelings following the devolution, which as a participant said: “It’s a positive sign and we must appreciate devolution. Let this process continue and change will happen. Institutions are never created in a day”
There was an unstated consensus that it was still a long way for Pakistan to go before a people-friendly energy policy was announced and implemented.