Engr Tahir Basharat Cheema

Non-professionalism in the power sector has been dubbed as the main reason for the present rot. Here, the present lacklustre governance at the MoE’s (Ministry of Energy’s) level and the huge management holes in DISCOs is considered as the direct result of this non-professionalism. It is further oft-repeated that the Disco BoDs (boards of directors), acting as the WAPDA of the yore, hold the key to success or oblivion. The experts have been shouting hoarse that if the boards are not appropriately notified, no power on earth will be able to save the power sector of Pakistan and in extension the people who sadly have to bear the brunt of the continued losses.

Looking at the happenings of the last five years, we see that the then boards were replaced in 2021 with a fully KE-centric composition, where as much as 42 mid-level erstwhile functionaries of the K-Electric and allied entities were notified for the 10 DISCOs and the poor NTDC (National Transmission and Dispatch Company). The only redeeming factor was that these people at least knew a few of the buzzwords being used in the power industry. One or two academicians were added in order to give these bodies a semblance of academic value. These Einsteins were unable to leave any mark, but the one or two real professionals did try their best with not much of success. All of the above happened as a former CEO of the K-Electric (even smaller in size and yearly revenues in comparison to LESCO) had been selected as the SAPM (Special Assistant to Prime Minister) on energy.

The PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) government thereafter de-notified these KE-centric BoDs and instead, being totally insensitive to the requirements and the tenants of law, notified patently political BoDs. These nominees were not even first-tier senior politicians – rather, they were counsellor level persons and even progeny of former legislators. And as it happens in such situations, these fully politicized boards were more interested in reaping the political economy of the sector than managing it. This situation, mixed up with temps as Discos’ CEOs and thousands of imperative vacancies in the sector, have resulted in a sector that is simply unable to survive or to serve the country. A few gentlemen on these boards who wished to vie for the last elections did resign from the boards. The only silver lining to the whole issue has been the fact that the Auditor General Pakistan took exception to the situation and has since issued a scathing and damning audit report, castigating the earlier nominations as a total contravention to the law.

Come 2024, the new coalition government and luckily the thought process that things need to be set right. Consequently, since the last two months, the Federal Minister is in the process of suggesting new BoDs. The incumbent is on record stating that the boards will be completely professional, and that no political intervention would be allowed in the process of nominations. Such a proclamation could not be more timely and opportune. The good minister’s thought process has been further eulogised, because many practitioners of the sector were contacted by him or his nominees during the last two months. Reportedly, some have also been interviewed.

As his wont of such situations, it seems that the generalist actually holding the reins of the sector have reportedly been able to convince the minister that no expert from the power sector be placed on the BoDs, as according to them, they will have their own axes to grind and thus would not be able to allow the Boards to remain independent. It has been reported that in order to meet the requirements, such experts are to be brought from the repository or alumnus of the KE, which the proponents of the change in the Boards consider as the best and the most suited. Moreover, as they will not have served in WAPDA or in the PEPCO area, these gentlemen would bring the needed independence of thought, etc. Moreover, as most of these gentlemen have been mid-level functionaries – we had seen all of them in the then SAPM backed BoDs of 2019-2022, thus there would be no issue of managing them. As the ones who are selecting the nominees are not experts and nor have experts been brought-in to assist for the correct selection, the middle level functionaries or at least the ones who have never held the position of the CEOs or the number two positions in even in a utility like KE will get accepted as the experts.

One such luminous is a gentleman, who reached the zenith of being the Head of Distribution of KE, which is not even similar to the position of at least 25 professionals in the DISCOs and who separately look after distribution operations and T&G operations and which positions are second only to the CEOs. During the incumbency of this person, NEPRA (National Electric Power Regulatory Authority) fined KE for below-par operations which had led to dozens of electrocutions there. Reportedly, this gentleman is tipped to head the BoDs of at least three DISCOs.

It all boils down to one fact that the present selection of the DISCO BoDs is going to be below-par, especially when it is based on the wisdom of the generalist civil servants posted in the energy ministry and who are not qualified to make such nominations without assistance from sectoral experts. In fact, the nomination committee as notified in the SOEs Act on 2023 will always remain deficient if they do not have any assistance from sectoral professionals and otherwise too any possible nomination will be faulty to say the least. Moreover, in Pakistan the best professionals for the Disco BoDs will ever be from the sector itself – preferably, from amongst the former CEOs and general managers – specially, those of the DISCOs who have excelled during their service. The present position leads us to the fact that relegating the best of the best would render the up-coming new boards to be lame duck at best. And, the BoDs will remain a burden, instead of any direction giving entities, for the Discos.

(The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)