Encounters of the third Kind: Might is right – WAPDA has a monopoly on Pakistan’s power supply and no consumer pressure group can change that!
By Fareeha Qayoom
Pakistan is in the grip of a giant monster. It’s corporate in nature – full of red tape, corruption, mismanagement and decay. The brains seem to be missing though, however, its tentacles can be found even in the remote areas. Everyone you meet loves to hate it. But they can’t do without it either. Life as you know would be over if it was not around.
Unfortunately, the monster knows it too and exploits the situation to the max. You can escape, go underground, however, you would need your own resident power house (and no, you can’t supply it to your neighbors), or you could move to another country…chances are; you would never look back.
Living in Pakistan is all-time hard. Only we the citizens can swing it – visitors find it hard going and can’t understand our patience and tolerance for so many frustrating road-blocks that litter our days. At this point, they even get the ritual tyre burning incidents that block the mall road quite frequently! In fact, one visitor from USA told me he would snap if he had to live here, he couldn’t take it anymore and he was going back earlier than planned!
The other option is to go the organic route- (it’s in fashion right now by the way), live off the land, go back a couple of centuries in time when life was simpler and there were fewer toys, there was the earth’s eco-system and you were part of it. Well, things are tougher for people who want to swim against the tide, you remember Darwin’s theory – survival of the fittest – well, it applies, going the organic route might cost you more than just conforming and forking out the cash up front. You would be literally eaten alive. Solar, wind, water power all cost money. Thermal, Nuclear, Generators run by gas or petrol so on and so forth is bad for the environment in the long run and is hardly organic even if they come off the earth…besides, at micro levels, the costs are astronomical; you could never afford it, no matter how rich you were. It has to be done on a macro level and you have seen how the government is handling the current power crisis. If you haven’t guessed it by now, you don’t live in Pakistan. The monster is called WAPDA.
Our troubles started when the new management/government was sworn in. Power outages may have been the norm in the past, however, the new management decided to give it a whole new twist. Ten to twelve hour power outages in the summers reduced to four to six hours in the winters, price hike every six months, poor to none-existent customer service, and excuses like circular debt are the new buzz words in our part of the world. Disgruntled customers are usually airing their views to anybody who will listen…hence; you hear regular rants on GEO TV against ‘LOAD SHEDDING’ – a term coined only for Pakistan. Who knows what the real problems are at WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority)?
What I do know is that it’s a new-age Robin Hood syndrome – rob the so-called rich and feed the richer – WAPDA loves overcharging and sending in excessive bills to ordinary consumers because there are 40 percent line losses. Somebody has to pay for it. DHA (Defence Housing Authority) is one neighborhood that’s been elected to make up the difference in Lahore. No this is no hearsay – I happened to speak to one insider on the lower rungs of LESCO – he gave me this classic explanation while defending his position! Unfortunately, we live in DHA, no, it’s not full of rich folk only – it’s also full of folk like us, not rich, just comfortable – I believe the correct derogatory term is yuppies – young, upwardly mobile professionals – (who live with their parents and do not own any property in their own right).
LESCO’s vendetta with me started when I became responsible for the electricity bill again after a lapse of about 18 months…another family member had temporarily taken over this chore – for some weird reason, LESCO had gone into a false sense of security with our domestic management change. They had started overcharging us because we had stopped noticing the number of units on the bill. They were excessive for the kind of appliances we were running. Besides, ours is a domestic connection, not a commercial one. We had been paying through our nose with no complaints.
When I took over the management of utility bills again about a couple of years ago, I noticed the change. No doubt, the cost of electricity had gone up in those 18 months but even then, the number of units were a bit excessive…I would make my younger bro check the meter…there were always discrepancies. We started visiting LESCO every month to lodge a complaint about number of units marked on the bill vs. the actual number on the meter. Funnily enough, there was usually a long queue at the SDO’s office with similar complaints. We would be sent to the basement to get the records straight, and next month again, we would have a similar problem. Eventually, the SDO and the record guy in the basement started recognizing us and expecting us once a month…we had become a familiar sight. However, with no solution in sight, the bill would be corrected temporarily to get rid of us but the difference would be billed to us again in some other form in the next month’s bill…
Unfortunately, the ‘actual meter reading vs. the imaginary bill reading’ problem never went away. So we decided to work on the principle of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ – we applied for another meter connection…since the utility bill has different slabs of costs for different number of units – the more you use, the higher the rate of costs – the bill can be truly exorbitant in the summer, even if you are running only one air-con 24/7! Especially if the meter reading is pure fantasy, ours’ was. They would dream up the number and put it on the bill and then would defend it like mad, holding on to their position. After all, where could we go? We were stuck with them.
Luckily for us, they were allowing two meter connections on one address in those days. (Now they don’t. In fact, it has been reported last month in the news that they are thinking of taking down the second meter connections and no, they will not refund your money for the installation. I am praying like mad it doesn’t happen to us). So our application was processed eventually, they made us pay through our noses for the privilege by the way and we had to put in more appearances at LESCO to jolly them along, they like to take their sweet time on every thing as usual.
Finally, the second meter got installed. Instead of the problem going away, now we have a bigger problem, instead of our bill going down because the costs rise on higher number of units used, and we had cleverly split the bill into two to halve the rates of costs, they were onto us!
Instead of costs going down (because number of units splitting into two and lower rates of costs becoming applicable); the number of units had gone up on both sets of bills so the bills were higher and now we were paying for 400-500 extra units that were pure fantasy! “No, our meters record the numbers correctly, no they are not fast. Digital meters are high-tech and the latest. No, our meter guy is very accurate. So what if you noted down the meter reading yourself today and its lower than the bill and ten days have gone past since we took it down? No, no one is stealing electricity from your line, no, no, no. Take it and stuff it down your throat,” is the message that we get from LESCO nowadays.
At this point, since they can lie on two meter readings, they went ahead and did just that…yes, there have been a couple of price hikes in the meantime and yes, the management has changed at LESCO – the new SDO Malik Bilal is strictly by the book guy – he doesn’t deal with consumers directly. He sends them on wild goose chase all over the place looking to get your problems sorted by someone else. The revenue officer Bashir Butt and his boss Nauman Malik are similarly unhelpful. No, at this point, we are not talking about the total number of units per bill but the arrears and the provisional bill on the new meter, there shouldn’t be any and the provisional bill should be split into four months instead of three as we got four bills to date and we paid them all. “No, the bills will get split on three months and our calculation is correct and there are arrears.” “No, how can you say that, all the bills were paid on time.” But no, they are always right. Your math skills don’t matter, only theirs do and they will defend it to death. You must be using the wrong calculator. The bill stays as is. Hmmm.
Putting your complaints in writing doesn’t cut it. Putting in-person appearances doesn’t make a difference. Trying to find a neat solution for your problem doesn’t help, they will find a way around it too. Bottom line, you can’t win with LESCO/WAPDA. You have to pay and keep on paying for the privilege of living in Pakistan.
So what, they are charging you more than what a regular resident in USA or Europe would get billed for his utilities? Face it, you live in a poor country – by rights, you should be surviving on candles. You have to pay ‘extra’ for the privilege of getting electricity at all. You can’t afford this luxury even if you are a paying consumer. The government is doing you a favor by supplying electricity to you at all. In USA and Europe, the utility and power companies charge less because they are richer economies apparently. I don’t get it, may be you do.
In my book, if I am paying for something, I am entitled to value for my money. Apparently, the rules don’t apply when it comes to LESCO/WAPDA. You know, economies of scale…market rules, demand vs. supply – equilibrium. They have just raised the costs of electricity another 6 percent. It’s a monopoly and they like it like that, they even have laws in place – no other company, private or otherwise, can supply electricity to you directly, the consumer, even if they have in house power plants and are making more (electricity) than their needs. I repeat they can’t supply it to their nearest and dearest, they can only rent it to the government and the government will pay when they want to, you know, circular debt…(I had been thinking of talking to Nishat Chunian directly to become our power supplier of choice before my younger bro shot my idea down in flames…!) What about capacity? We have a higher demand than we can supply –another myth, half of the production plants have been closed down and are not currently making electricity…so it’s not a question of capacity; it’s a simple matter of economics. Somebody is not paying their bills and it’s not us – the consumers. Who is it? I leave it to you to figure it out. The question has me stumped.
You know no private sector corporate entity would behave in a similar manner and get away with it. They would be out of business in no time flat. Might is right. Beat the Jungle drums – we are going the organic route or is it the dark ages route? I forget. Does anyone know of a low cost candle making recipe for homes?
I leave you with one question – what would happen to our electricity bills if there was no load shedding in the summers? Doesn’t this sound like a full action thriller with a bit of horror thrown in too?