Rising circular debt, at-whim inductions irk Senate body

Displeased over the continued absence of the federal power minister from its meetings, the Senate Standing Committee on Power on Tuesday once again deferred a key government bill and expressed concern over rising circular debt and ‘out-of-merit’ selection of directors to the boards of power sector entities.

The meeting of the committee presided over by Senator Saifullah Abro took up the government bill “The Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2022”, as passed by the National Assembly and moved by former law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar on Aug 18.

The committee decided to consider the bill only if Federal Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir Khan attends the meeting.

“The federal power minister has continuously been absent from the committee meetings for the last seven months,” the Senate committee said and showed resentment at the non-participation of the power minister in the committee meetings.

Mr Abro said the minister was available on TV talk shows but unfortunately can’t attend the standing committee meetings.

He said the power sector had wreaked havoc in three years on the nation with its entrenched monopolies and wondered in what capacity Prime Minister’s Adviser Amir Muqam kept sitting in Peshawar Electric Supply Company.

While discussing the pending payment of circular debt towards K-Electric, Mr Abro told the members that the circular debt of the power sector in the country now stood at Rs2.4 trillion. The committee noted that due to the non-operation of two power plants, the treasury suffered a loss of Rs42bn and instead of capacity building for increased generation, the existing fleet of the generation companies had gone down to 2,100MW from over 7,000MW a couple of years back.

During a review of the list of boards of directors of various entities under the Power Division, the chairman of the committee observed that the members of the boards had been appointed without merit. “It seems like the CVs of the board of members have been drafted by one person,” remarked Senator Saifullah Abro.

The committee lamented the irrelevant inductions in the Power Division, “if such people are included, grid stations will be destroyed” observed Mr Abro and pointed out that two members of the Multan Electric Power Company were irrelevant to the field as one of them was running a CNG station and the other had a few factories.

He said it was no surprise that circular debt was rising when boards of distribution companies were represented by currency dealers and real estate operators.

The Power Division officials told the committee that the board members were appointed with the approval of the federal cabinet and represented a cross-section of consumers and businesses including professionals.

Senator Fida Muhammad said it was useless to debate the matter with bureaucrats in the absence of the power minister as they had to follow the political directives and the issue of the presence of incompetent people on the board could not be resolved unless the minister attended the meeting.

The meeting decided to refer the matter relating to continued absence of power minister to the chairman Senate for onward intervention of the prime minister.

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