VIEW: ‘Power’ crisis —Andleeb Abbas - Sunday, May 01, 2011

Source :\05\01\story_1-5-2011_pg3_3

As the budget approaches, the government finds itself short of partners who may support a budget that is further going to crush the already squeezed public. To make up for this shortage the government is thus busy buying loyalties of the unfaithful 

Shortages create a desperate demand stress. Whether it is energy, cash flows or a parliamentary majority, the government’s distressed non-response is creating a resentment and retaliation in the public that is going to build up to a destructive level as the summer heat takes its toll. On all fronts, the red alert has become such a norm for our leaders that they believe that time will eventually exhaust the people of this country so much that they will just accept the reality that change in this country is as feasible as snowfall in the Sahara desert.

Management of crises is a given responsibility of any leadership. The biggest example of managing a crisis is the recent mega destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the great example of how the leadership, taking the public into confidence, has dealt with it in a mature and dignified manner. The leaders have been making radio and TV addresses on the exact nature of the danger to the nuclear reactors and have gone about making immediate, short- and long-term plans to ensure better preparedness in case of a recurrence in the future. The open and transparent nature of their communication of the extent of the damage and the sharing of their damage control strategy has made this devastation seem another finely executed project of disaster management for the Japanese. However, in our country the inept leaders have absolutely no idea how to handle themselves, leave aside handling a country mired in every imaginable crisis.

To handle a crisis you need experts to make a feasible plan and committed people to implement it. As far as the economic crisis is concerned, we definitely have a very capable man in Hafeez Sheikh heading it and trying to bring method to this madness of an economy teetering on bankruptcy. He has time and again requested the government to cut down expenditures or impose new taxes to generate revenues for running the government. However when it comes to implementation of these plans, the government finds it impossible to cut down any costs; in fact, the government borrowing keeps on increasing to retain the loyalty of coalition partners and also to buy in new partners when old ones defect The present negotiation on ministries and perks with the PML-Q is a typical example of how and where the money flies out even before it comes in, thus creating a cash flow crunch, which is then either filled in by making holes in other crucial sectors or going for aid on extremely compromising terms with agencies like the IMF. This then leads to the question marks on the sovereignty of the nation. The cash flow crunch has aggravated situations in many other areas. The energy crisis has been exacerbated due to the circular debt problem as money not released to independent power producers (IPPs) makes them incapable of operating at full capacity. Development projects are slashed, making the government management more of a piece rate/daily wages affair, where the only focus is to end the day without going bust.

The energy crisis has now become crippling. The shortfall is over 6,000 megawatts with load shedding extending to three-fourths of the day. The only strategy the government has so far been able to make is to ask the government offices’ air conditioners to operate after 11:00 am and the shops to close by 8:00 pm. The lack of transparency and communication on this issue has created such public unrest that they have started bashing the local power supply companies’ offices in frustration. This is what happens when the crisis is left on its own without feasible plans and thorough implementation, which is desperately needed to pacify people and reassure them that there is soon going to be a way out.

As the budget approaches, the government finds itself short of partners who may support a budget that is further going to crush the already squeezed public. To make up for this shortage the government is thus busy buying loyalties of the unfaithful to find support for imposing unbearable taxes on the victimised public. Their attempt to convince the JUI-F and MQM to accept their demands without giving in to their desire for power has made them go to people they had vowed never to work with. PML-N, meantime, finds itself also short of aces up its sleeve to corner the government. Their own position in Punjab is unenviable as the fiscal crunch and their province vs the Centre vendetta has exposed severe limitations for them to appear as a strong alternative to a weak government. This has created a political vacuum that the smaller parties are trying to fill for their own benefits.

To make matters worse, the Americans have come out in the open in accusing the ISI of supporting terrorist organisations for insurgency in Afghanistan. The Americans have cut short Pakistan’s claims of reducing American interference on their soil by justifying it on the basis of the defiant behaviour of ISI. The Americans have this curious relationship with Pakistan where they have been declaring Pakistan as the biggest ally in the war against terror and on the other hand accusing Pakistan’s prime intelligence agency, ISI, as a friend of their enemy. The government’s strategy of distancing themselves from this feud between CIA and ISI has made them unpopular in the public, the ISI and the Americans. Finally, in total confusion, they have admitted that the ISI has the government’s backing.

As the government shifts its stands, policies and partners like a chameleon, it seems to have lost count of what they had said to whom on which occasion. With steady deterioration in the party’s popularity and a complete shortage of power maintenance manoeuvres, the president has finally decided to use his last trump card to restore some charm to a party suffering from the anemia of charismatic people. The president announced that Bilawal would be joining the party formally this year. The expectation of the father is that the Bhutto legacy in the form of a fresh and younger Bhutto may help the brand rediscover its lost magic. However, the president forgets that this will be a short-term distraction for a public weary of going after names and dynasties. Eventually, if the party cannot stall the steep fall to misery of the common man, the saying, ‘Like father like son’ may become an uncomfortable truth.

The writer is a consultant and can be reached at

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