NEPRA’s disclosure that an “inadvertent error” was made in the schedule of tariff for KESC is enough to shake all confidence in the power bureaucracy. For three years now, we are told, an erroneous calculation of the power tariff charged to various categories of consumers in the city of Karachi has resulted in inflating their bills by an average of 14.5 per cent. What’s more, the government also has had to pay more in the form of power differential subsidy on account of this error, with the exact amount not yet calculated. It is puzzling that the error was not detected over three years. It is equally inexplicable why two additional offices of government — the chief engineering adviser of the water and power ministry, and the auditor general — both failed to catch the error. Perhaps a little less puzzling is KESC’s own silence over the years, though somebody there must have noticed the error. And if not, what does that say for the professionalism of the private management running the utility? Is their silence explained by the fact that the error went in their favour?
KESC must be made to repay the money by adjusting its receivables from the government under the tariff differential subsidy head. And the power bureaucracy must be made more transparent to restore some measure of confidence in its ability to perform its job. This error, as well as a similar episode in Faisalabad recently, speaks of the chaos in the power bureaucracy, a state of affairs for which the general public is bearing the cost. Aggressive accountability and transparency are the only solution now. A template for regular disclosure of information needs to be developed, and made legally binding upon the power bureaucracy. Once key information starts to be disclosed regularly, attentive minds in the public will take care of the rest.