Senate passes resolution to end monopoly in power sector

The government and the opposition in the Senate Monday passed a rare unanimous resolution for abolition of monopoly in the power sector and evolving a mechanism to help generate and provide low-cost electricity to consumers.

Both sides expressed deep concern over the continuously increasing power tariff and identified monopoly “mafias” as the main hurdle to going for cheaper technology for electricity generation. The Senate witnessed a lively debate from both sides of the divide on the subject.

The resolution, moved by PPP Senator Taj Haider, said the government should allow public-private partnership and the private sector to install their own solar, wind or local coal-based power plants in the country with minimum 30 megawatt electricity generation capacity and sell electricity to domestic, commercial and industrial consumers directly on a pre-determined tariff formula through their own transmission and distribution grids.

The PPP lawmaker agreed to incorporate a minor amendment to specify mode for electricity generation proposed by PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz to make the landmark idea acceptable to all. Haider, who hails from Sindh, explained that power producers, under an agreement, had to sell electricity to K-Electric in the case of Karachi, and to distribution companies (DISCOs) in the rest of the country, which resell it at much higher rates. He wondered for how long we would follow the devastating outdated traditions.

About the multifarious problems faced by power consumers who encounter frequent disruptions in the supply despite paying heavily for it, he said, ending the private monopoly and permitting producers to sell power directly to consumers is the way forward. He added small solar parks could be established across the country to provide cheap electricity to consumers.

Then, he cited the example of India where over-the-counter sale of electricity has already been allowed to accelerate the pace of economic development and progress. He said free electricity of up to 300 units was being supplied to residents of New Delhi. The direct sale of electricity, he emphasized, will bring down the cost of production in the industrial sector and bolster exports.

Senator Mohsin Aziz supported the resolution and said the public and the industry continue to bear the brunt of agreements with independent power producers (IPPs) for purchase of electricity at higher costs. He agreed to the idea of the PPP senator, but suggested specifying the mode of power generation- an amendment which was incorporated in the resolution.

PMLN Senator Irfanul Haq Siddiqui rose to endorse the resolution and asked his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support it. Senator Kamil Ali Agha of the PMLQ also appreciated the proposal but warned that mafias having vested interest would try to create hurdles to its implementation. Later, the amended resolution was adopted.

Through another resolution jointly moved by the opposition and treasury benches, the House called for rotating the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) between both Houses of the parliament for a period of two and a half years.

Minister of State for Law Shahadat Awan of the PPP, initially tried to oppose the resolution, saying that the issue should be resolved through dialogue. He also reminded the members that the PAC was a National Assembly’s committee.

Former Senate deputy chairman and PPP’s Saleem Mandviwala recalled that a decision had been taken to form the Senate’s own PAC, during the days of Raza Rabbani but it could not be implemented. He said the resolution would not be well-received by the National Assebmly, suggesting the chairman talk to the NA Speaker on the issue.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem said that it was a genuine demand involving the question of dignity of the House. The House later unanimously passed the resolution. However, the unanimity proved short-lived when PTI Chairman Imran Khan came under fire from the treasury benches for taking the oath from his party members for a march on Islamabad. Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman’s remarks over the oath-taking sparked a noisy protest. The PTI senators strongly agitated to her remarks, which were expunged by the chair. However, they kept on chanting “shame, shame” and some of them demanded her to withdraw her remarks, which she declined. PTI members also smashed their files against desks.

The minister pointed out that the event had been highlighted by the media. “In which country this happens when people in such a massive number are desperately in need of relief,” she wondered. She decried the oath-taking for the long march at a time when still over 20 million flood victims were in dire need of relief, including shelter and food. “He is not finding people for public meetings and taking the oath for the long march. This is fascism. Audio leaks have surfaced and how charity accounts were misused,” she noted, referring to Imran Khan.

Citing to the gravity of floods, she explained that the situation was not business as usual, adding that global estimates stood at $40 billion but these were conservative estimates. “Unlike the 2010 floods, which affected 20 million people, 33 million people were affected by recent floods. Over 13,000KM roads and 435 bridges were swept away,” she added.

Leader of the Opposition Dr.Shazad Waseem of the PTI alleged that people were not drowned in floods but in corruption and incompetence of the rulers. “Neither it was an earthquake nor floods but your incompetence; the entire world knows about climate change, but where were your preparations to cope with them?” he said.

He contended that the minister had hardly attended the House and sked where was she when the House was debating floods, adding they were running away from the House and would fly out of the country as well. He alleged landlords saved their land and diverted water to poor growers’ fields.

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