ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel on Monday refused to approve two bills proposing comprehensive powers for government officials to charge additional fees on electricity consumption and the power for police to arrest consumers for theft.
A ruling party lawmaker from Karachi walked out of the meeting in protest at a rule that stopped parliament from holding K-Electric accountable for the city’s woes.
The meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee for Power, chaired by MNA Chaudhry Salik Hussain, witnessed an exchange of political points judgments between Energy Minister Omar Ayub Khan and Marriage Syazia PPP over increasing circular debt.
Among other things, the proposed bill seeking an amendment to the Nepra Law (Regulation Amendments to the Generation, Transmission, Distribution of Electric Power Amendment 2020) was opposed by members and chairmen over blanket powers to impose additional fees.
Under the existing Nepra law, the government has the power to charge additional fees from time to time to raise money for any public sector project to the extent decided by the federal government.
The proposed amendments envision giving the federal government the power to charge additional fees to raise funds to the extent that the government decides for any public sector project as well as for other purposes.
PTI legislators protested against the rule that freed the KE from parliamentary oversight
When members criticized the bill, the chairperson decided that the committee would not pass it unless it indicated who would be bound to pay for it, where it would be spent, which authority would keep the funds and how much would be raised.
Minister Omar Ayub said additional costs were needed to cover financing costs and circular debt through taxes in the budget if the collection of the required amount could not be made through certain additional fees.
He said most of the roughly Rs1 trillion circular debt had grown during the previous administration due to un budgeted subsidies. He said that Rs229 billion, out of the Rs450 billion blocked by the PML-N government before the election, had been passed on to consumers through the Nepra adjustment.
He said the PTI government could go through various steps, including the tariff adjustment of Rs229 billion mentioned above, to reduce the monthly accumulation in circular debt to Rs12-14 billion, but the Covid-19 outbreak made it difficult to implement further tariff increases.
He said the previous government had artificially frozen the exchange rate and this had a significant impact on electricity rates.
Marriage Shazia of the People’s Party said it was shocking to hear from the ruling party in her third year in office that it had no plans to overcome the challenges it inherited from coming to power. “This is unacceptable.”
Mr Ayub retaliated by accusing the PPP of “pumping inflation into the system” by raising the minimum support price for wheat by 300 percent while in power.
The committee asked Nepra to explain the procedure for setting rates in writing.
The minister informed the committee that the unbudgeted subsidies in circular debt were a major source of concern for the government. This problem must be resolved through uniform tariffs and by empowering the distribution company to collect additional fees from consumers.
The chairman said the ministry should submit a plan to manage circular debt to the standing committee, observing that the imposition of additional fees through law was unjustified.
The bill was also suspended for the next scheduled meeting.
Energy Minister Omar Ayub told the committee that his ministry is doing its best to systematically control theft of electricity in distant areas. “The anti-theft drive has been going on for the last two years.”
“Pakistan’s Criminal Code (Amendments), 2020” will authorize officers in Class 17 and above to become aware of an offense. The minister stressed that the provincial government must also play a role in controlling the theft of electricity.
The chairman appreciated the intent of the bill, but postponed it for the next meeting at the member’s request.
Saifur Rehman, a PTI member from Karachi, walked out of the meeting, complaining that officials from across the country attended committee meetings, but matters relating to K-Electric remain unchecked as the energy ministry tries to distance itself from responsibility. .
With a hint of sarcasm, he suggested that the members from Karachi be expelled from the committee if their concerns and questions couldn’t be heard.
Published in Dawn, October 20, 2020
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