| ISLAMABAD, April 22
ISLAMABAD, April 22 Pakistan is expected on
Thursday to introduce a raft of measures to conserve energy as
the government struggles with a chronic electricity shortage,
which is inflaming public anger and stifling industry.
Government and energy officials have been meeting this week
to find ways to overcome the shortage and Prime Minister Yusuf
Raza Gilani will announce their decisions later on Thursday.
"We will have to take short-term, medium-term and long-term
measures," Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Pakistan's biggest
province, Punjab, told business people after the end of the
crisis talks on Wednesday.
"In the short-term, we have to see how to save energy," he
Pakistan has production capacity of about 16,500 MW but
faces a shortfall of between 4,000-5,000 MW.
The main reason for the shortage is that past governments
failed to anticipate growth in demand and delayed implementing
power and dam projects that would have boosted output.
A lack of investment in existing plants, outdated grids and
rampant electricity theft mean that some grid companies
experience line losses of 30-40 percent, analysts say.
Lengthy power outages, known as load-shedding, can last 6-8
hours a day in cities, while cuts can be much more frequent in
The cuts often trigger protests by angry, stick-yielding
men who block main roads, burn tyres and throw stones at
The crisis has crippled industry, notably textiles, the
main export sector and largest employer in the manufacturing
sector. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cited the
power shortage as a serious economic constraint.
"Electricity shortages continue to prevent the economy from
achieving its potential," the IMF said this month.
An IMF emergency loan package of $7.6 billion agreed in
November 2008 helped avert a balance of payments crisis and
shore up reserves. The IMF increased the loan to $11.3 billion
INDUSTRY AND AGRICULTURE
The IMF is urging the government to remove all subsidies on
electricity, which will lead to higher prices for consumers.
Authorities have already raised electricity charges
significantly and the News newspaper said consumers would have
to pay a 5.5 percent surcharge on every unit they use in the
new fiscal year, beginning on July 1.
Other measures Gilani is expected to announce include two
full days off a week for government workers, the early closure
of markets and restrictions on electronic billboards and on
air-conditioning in government offices, media reported.
Restrictions could also be put on wedding parties held in
establishments that organise receptions to ensure they do not
go on for too long at night, media said.
Sharif, the brother of opposition leader and former prime
minister Nawaz Sharif, said he had initially opposed the idea
of two days off a week for government workers, who now get one.
"I was initially a strong opponent of that ... but in this
emergency-like situation, we will have to seek a way to save
energy for our industry and agriculture sector," he said.
The government has vowed to increase supplies but needs
money to do so. The United States and Pakistan last month
outlined steps to refurbish power stations, part of a $125
million U.S. aid pledge for the sector.
Last year, the government initiated plans for the
installation of rental power plants, which it saw as the "only
solution", while completing medium- and long-term projects.
However, accusations of misconduct and a lack of
transparency have swirled around the rental projects.
(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Chris Allbritton)