The Express Tribune Editorial 23 January 2021

Water supply


Karachi is supplied 650 million gallons of daily water against its requirement for 1,100 MGD. This leaves a shortfall of nearly 40%. Now hopes have rekindled about resumption of work on the stalled Greater Karachi Bulk Water Supply Scheme as one of the components of the scheme – the transmission line from the starting point to Karachi – is to be completed with the assistance of the World Bank. The transmission line would supply 130mgd, including 65mgd to the metropolis, easing the water shortage in the city. Over the years, the scheme has run into roadblocks ranging from delay in clearing dues of contractors leading them to stop work. Contractors hired for the project stopped work on the project in September last year as the government had not cleared their dues amounting to Rs500 million.
The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board had floated the idea of the scheme in 2012. The Sindh government, however, okayed it two years later. A preliminary study of the project was conducted in 2016-17. Thereafter, the allocation of funds and their release have been sluggish, which went on to delay the project endlessly. There has been a noticeable discrepancy in the allocation of funds and the actual amount released year after year. In the 2017-18 budget, one billion rupees were allocated, but only Rs250 million were released. The next year there was no allocation of funds. There was a huge gap in the budgetary allocation and the actual release of funds in 2019-20. In the budget for the ongoing year, Rs150 million were approved, of which only Rs37 million were released in December last year. Of this, Rs30 million were paid to contractors and Rs7 million to the consulting firm. However, work is yet to be resumed.
The government has admitted that the project has been inordinately delayed, but now it will pick up pace with the help of the World Bank. The scheme is expected to be completed in the next four years.



Development amid threats


Ever since Imran Khan took the reins, in 2018, it is as if he has been walking a tightrope while juggling a plethora of issues — some inherited, some completely unprecedented. However, despite much criticism, he has done so with great poise and sensibility. What separates him from previous leaders is that he actually knows where the priorities of a PM should lie.
In a recent visit to Wana, South Waziristan, PM Imran announced the launch of 3G/4G internet services in order to promote educational learning and development in the region. The decision is indeed ground-breaking for the people of Waziristan who have suffered immensely, especially during the pandemic, after the government suspended internet services almost a year ago, due to security reasons. The threat, unfortunately, is very real. For long, India has been engaging in a massive campaign of 5th generation warfare in its nefarious bid to destabilise Pakistan and obstruct development and prosperity by targeting vulnerable areas in AJK, K-P and Balochistan. However, despite such threats, PM Imran, with the help of the army, remains steadfast to his philosophy of empowering the youth and uplifting those that have been left behind.
In the rapidly evolving digital age — characterised by an epochal shift from traditional industries that emerged during the Industrial Revolution to the dependence on information technology — internet, which was once considered a luxury has become a basic need. It is a precursor towards growth, development and now education. The pandemic has further amplified our dependence on the internet. Since information has become a key driver and enabler of the economy, one can safely assume that if the people of the region use this resource wisely, Waziristan will be able to pave its own way forward.
However, due to continuous external threats it is essential for the government, security officials and the citizens to be extra cautious, and any unusual activity should be flagged immediately. Above all else, transparency of information should be maintained.



Power tariff raise


It looks as if revival of the IMF loan programme – stalled since the Covid-19 outbreak – is afoot. It looks so because the federal government has increased the prices of petroleum products twice during the ongoing month, following up with a raise in the power tariff, by Rs1.95 per unit, on Thursday. The Imran Khan-led government, formed in the wake of the July 2018 elections, had similarly paved the way to the $6 billion loan deal inked with the global lender in June 2019. Media reports say that IMF wants the government to increase utilities’ charges and take steps to reduce circular debt and power losses in order to have the bailout programme back on track.
The Rs1.95 raise in power tariff constitutes a 13% increase in the average per unit cost of electricity supplied – already highest by far in the region. While costlier power will ensure an addition of a few billion rupees to the government revenues, higher tariff for the industry will come back to bother the government itself. Needless to mention that the raise in power tariff will add to the cost of industrial production – meaning a rise in inflation. It also threatens to turn our exports uncompetitive for buyers in the US and Europe who have only recently reverted to us because of Covid-19 lockdowns in much of our neighbouhood. The industry has expressed concerned over what they call an ‘untimely’ government move that jeopardises the renewed momentum in the economic activity in the country.
When in the opposition, Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised the much-needed structural reforms in the power sector – and other sectors of the economy – to curtail power tariff, thereby allowing the domestic consumers to breathe easy and ensuring industrial consumers an ease of doing business. However, the incumbent government’s performance is even more disappointing than the previous ones when it comes to tackling power theft and improving recovery of bills. The circular debt – which has galloped to a worrying Rs2.3 trillion from Rs1.2 trillion around the time of Imran Khan’s swearing in as PM – looks like an uncontrollable monster which is enough to speak of the performance of the incumbents.

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