And campaign promises
That bad news from the water and power ministry makes the headlines now and then is no longer surprising. But that ‘embezzlement, misappropriation and irregularities’ in accounts of Wapda and related companies in 2013-14 (at Rs980b) equalled to roughly one-fourth of next year’s Rs4t federal budget is shocking indeed. The Auditor General has recommended that the president order an inquiry; whatever little that can achieve. The people remember, even if the prime minister does not, just how energy-heavy his campaign manifesto was. And he has not explained so far why his government has been so helpless as the power sector has clearly worsened, and it is unable to check mounting losses.
It turns out that transmission and distribution losses alone since 2013 add up to Rs83 billion. Some people also remember how the government, not long after coming to power, initiated and executed a mysterious, unaudited payoff of the circular debt. Of course it speaks little of the matter now, since the debt has spiraled to nearly the same level in now time; with no explanation of the Rs500b of taxpayer receipts that went to money heaven.
And that, of course, raises the matter of the government’s heavy investment in energy infrastructure, not to mention its glee on foreign funded projects – like the energy corridor that will accompany the economic corridor, etc. The R33b of Chinese money – the energy component of CPEC – in the form of large infrastructure will achieve precious little if the simple matter of corruption and non-payment is not handled. And going by the last two-and-some years, this is hardly the N-league’s strong point. It talked tough on power ahead of the election, especially Shahbaz Sharif, but its performance has been poor since coming to power. The same can be said of its other core election promise – expanding the tax net. Unless the government takes practical steps, and is seen stamping out corruption (from the power sector at least), it will not be able to sell the old narrative in the new election.