The government is preaching electricity conservation to the converted: it’s not the consumers who don’t pay their bills, or waste electricity or steal electricity from their neighbors or practice corruption on a large scale or is it?
By Fareeha Qayoom
ctions speak louder than words. Our current government actually doesn’t care about her citizens. They are more interested in making hay while their particular sun shines. They know for a fact that they will not be returning to power anytime soon after completing their current term so they are out to make their presence felt within this term. Their objective seems to be to make history as quickly as possible.
Why would I say that? Well, it’s obvious. The citizens in major cities were protesting against excessive load-shedding since their livelihood is going down the tubes, so the government sat down and came up with a few measures – to conserve energy! (The implication being that it’s the consumers’ who are the problem. They demand and use too much electricity. They don’t pay their bills on-time. They are corrupt. They steal electricity from their neighbors –you must have seen government ads on giant billboards with such messages- and they bribe law-abiding public servants to break the law and doctor their bills and meters and they are the ones responsible for the line losses – solution is in their own hands – conserve energy and accept excessive load-shedding!).
Photo by jcolmanThe government didn’t identify real issues or come up with short term, medium term and long term measures or goals to solve them during the two day power conference. Instead they offered you a band aid to secure your gaping wound that requires at least ten stitches to close it at the conclusion of the conference. Yes, the bleeding will continue and infection might also set in. You might end up amputating the limb as well but what the heck, they think a band aid is enough to solve the immediate problem. (Were you expecting a different outcome from this futile ‘brainstorming’ session? By its very nature, brainstorming sessions never come up with solid solutions anyway – they’re usually an exercise in group-think by sycophants to validate the quick conclusions already thought up by the people in charge and vilify the obstacles or people in the way of implementation based on those conclusions; in other words, it’s an exercise to eliminate all opposing views and identify enemies of the status quo.)
The conservation measures are sure to aggravate the situation some more before the citizens adjust to the brand new reality – for example, one measure involves working from 9:00 to 3:00, five days a week only for the government offices (33 hour work week according to one TV talk show). Nothing wrong with that if the public servants actually worked during the week, since they don’t, (why do you think they require kickbacks to actually do some routine work?) a two day long weekend is meaningless. Still, it might conserve some energy since our government never got around to installing energy saver bulbs or LED lights in public offices or tube lights or fans for their managerial staff. The managers are still entitled to air conditioning and lights with100 watts bulbs at the minimum. So what if the citizens adjusted three years ago when the electricity tariff started going up? So what if the citizens no longer run air conditioning in every room? So what if the citizens have unplugged loads of electric appliances and put them away? The government officers still need irons, washing machines, electric kettles, micro-wave ovens, home computers, television sets, and DVD and CD players to run at home as whim takes them since they get exemptions on their utility bills? Yes, since the government never got around to paying its electricity bills, it wasn’t aware how much it costs to run electricity in this country now. So what if the ordinary citizens keep turning out lights and fans when they leave a room and conserve energy by running only a single AC during the hot summer months? The government regularly forgets to shut down street lights during the day. The government must now also do its part in conserving electricity – its efforts will definitely impact the power outages, you’ll see, the duration will decrease immediately; hence, the ‘energy conservation drive’ three years later, a case of too little too late. (Maybe if the public sector had adjusted to the changed reality three years ago, we might never had load-shedding; since the problem seems to be ‘conservation’, and not ‘payment of unpaid circular debt’ and the resulting low production or utilization of existing capacity for power generation.)
It’s us, the ordinary citizens who work for more than 40- 60 hours a week and still will have to- sigh – who now need to adjust quickly to a new reality – take me for example, Saturday was a half day for me…so I would keep the Saturday afternoons free for banking, paying my utility bills or for shopping for essentials and meeting friends in the city. Saturday is still a half day for me. Unfortunately, however, the commercial banks were closed today because State Bank was closed; (yes, there is the ATM and your credit card for emergencies but not everyone accepts credit cards and sometimes you need more cash than your ATM limit, for those occasions, you have to now go through the inconvenience of taking time off from work to actually go and run your errands and pay your bills or get someone to do them on your behalf) and the markets were practically deserted which is kind of surprising since for the majority of private sector, Saturday is still the weekend.
If you own a shop, you will have to close it down by eight in the evenings. Since majority of your customers will not visit you in the hot mornings or hot afternoons, you will have minimal to nil traffic during the daylight hours and will have a fewer sales hours in the cooler part of the afternoons and evenings, so your livelihood is in more jeopardy now. On Saturdays, you won’t be able to bank your sale receipts with your bank. Robbery and theft will be a constant fear over the weekend. One option is to close shop on Saturdays, which might mean losing a lucrative sales day. Don’t forget many people shop on their days off. Instead of closing shops for a siesta, the government is making you close them in your prime sales hours. Yes, the measure is going to be a big help in conserving energy so what if you lose more business? It’s hardly their problem.
If you run a wedding hall, or a catering business, you need to close it down within three hours in peak season…
Load-shedding is now a year round phenomenon, it impacts the wedding season as well (September to April) so the new measure in place only jeopardizes your livelihood some more. It will not conserve energy since you already brought your own generator as a backup but what it will do now is decrease your business. Who wants to dress up in wedding finery, eat, drink, and be merry for three hours on happy occasions? The guests want to dance all night, be with their loved ones and have fun. People would now prefer to throw their wedding parties at home for select family and friends. There is no point hiring large wedding halls to make merry – weddings are no longer permitted to be celebrations but will be now occasions to make formal announcements of the main event for example, “So and so got married in a private ceremony, let’s eat and drink to wish them well and go home.” You might as well give up and take for the hills. Wait, the hills are no longer safe either. Tourism is dead and the terrorists live there now. Well, why don’t you jump down a hole and break your leg too?
Yes, my wit is questionable and it’s easier to criticize than offer solutions, let’s play the devil’s advocate for a bit, the government is doing all she can to solve problems; we have to make allowances for the fact that they are at least making an effort. Well, ask any CEO of any major corporate entity, s/he will tell you, your results count, not your effort.
So what would I do if I was in charge of solving this problem?
First of all, I would identify the real problem – is it an ‘energy generation’ issue or is it a ‘capacity’ issue or is it an ‘energy conservation’ issue, or is it a ‘upgrading and improving an existing system’ issue, or is it ‘lack of funding’ issue, or is it ‘depending entirely on the depleting and expensive fossil fuels’ issue or is it ‘not having water in our rivers’ issue, or is it ‘low precipitation’ issue, or is it ‘not having a comprehensive energy policy’ issue or is it ‘not having a backup plan’ issue or is it a ‘corruption’ issue or is it having a ‘monopoly’ issue or is it ‘having too much staff’ issue or ‘not having enough staff’ issue or is it not having ‘enough spare parts to fix the damaged parts’ issue or is it ‘God only knows’ issue, (in other words, ‘missing tech staff’ issue)? Is it a combination of all above mentioned issues? Since, the government seems confused about how to identify the real issue; they can’t solve this particular problem. Adding on Rental Power Plants is only a stop gap solution and is not very effective to begin with, especially if it is costing a ‘lot’ of money to generate a ‘little’ electricity and it’s not even filling the gap in the short term – (by the way, two years is not considered a short term in the private sector. Three to six months are considered a short term – you know a probation period).
Two, I would create a short term, medium term and long term goals and I would make sure if my government goes, the projects do not get derailed. I would pass legislation to ensure that in the parliament by getting all political parties’ agreement now, including the ones who are not in the government but might be in the future.
Three, I would create transparent objectives by consensus and get all stakeholders involved to ensure these are implemented:
Four, communicate my energy plan to consumers, stakeholders, media and staff and give them an option to track my progress through all its phases.
It seems pretty simple to me. And I do not have a degree in rocket science. All it takes is a little common sense! However, since common sense is not all that common (fortunately I don’t work for the government – thank God!), and since this is a simple plan, no way would it get implemented even twenty years from now! The government needs a complicated energy plan that can’t be understood by its stakeholders, media, experts or consumers. Only then can she succeed in implementation and since that’s her plan, you can go crazy trying to identify issues, they can keep the denial in place as a policy.
My advice, conserve energy – don’t burn tires. Don’t do peaceful demonstrations to voice your protests. Don’t arrange talk shows; don’t invite energy experts, economy experts and government experts and talk the issue to death. It might backfire on you like it did now.
The problem is too complicated and is beyond common sense. Leave the government alone so it can continue to pose as a ‘problem’ instead of a ‘solution’ by blaming its citizens for all its woes. If you can’t even do that; start working on acquiring a dual nationality for your entire family, (or join the terrorists! – just kidding!). Chances are; you might get lucky before the government does (finding a simple solution to a simple problem). ■