In fact, it is the country that is suffering the most because of mismanaged energy demand and supply in the region. The fact that international oil prices are at a record low and Pakistan plunges into darkness with its industries and entire transport system is forced to come at a halt is a very evident symptom of a serious disease that has taken over everyone including the front-line staff, bureaucrats, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Finance.
The energy demand in Pakistan has not increased dramatically over night. The increasing trend has been there for more than a decade. The country’s dependence on oil imports and reduction in local gas production has not been hidden from anyone. After the Pakistani economy boosted in the 1980s, the local demand for energy kept growing at a high pace. The economic progress slowed down but the demand for energy did not slump. While the present government along with the last one tried to explain people that this increasing demand is the root cause of energy deficit in the country, they successfully managed to fool themselves. Making assumptions about difficult situations is easy and avoiding responsibility is much more convenient. Take the example of a couple expecting to give birth to one child and ends up having triplets. Do they let the children starve and simply blame them for having fewer resources than planned or do they exploit their resources efficiently in order to feed all the children and start planning their future accordingly? The government officials have been completely ignorant while pointing out the real problem. The main problem in the energy sector of Pakistan is not the lack of resources; it is the huge mismanagement starting from the very low level to the top of the system. Lack of resources is just the outcome of the mismanagement and shortsightedness of our policymakers and implementers – the same people who shamelessly present the recent cuts in domestic petroleum prices (primarily driven by low international oil prices) as a “gift” from the government of Pakistan.
Politicians are tuned to play politics in every aspect of their lives. All around the world, politicians try their best to design policies that provide them huge political dividends. This cannot be tagged as a negative characteristic mainly because it is the nature of their work. But in Pakistan and other developing countries, the masses are easy to manipulate which makes the jobs of politicians much easier. Pakistani politicians have always proven to take initiatives that only pretend to solve the problem while in reality the main issue remains untouched. It is like treating brain tumor by taking out the appendix. You tell everyone that the patient went through surgery but what you do not tell them is that it would not solve anything. In the case of recent fuel shortages, we basically noticed two doctors fighting one another in the operation theatre with the patient cut open on the table. While they argued about whose job it is to put the stitches, the patient bled out. Leave the private cars and public transport aside, even the ambulances failed to deliver their services. When newly independent states like Estonia are launching e-citizenship and governing the entire country via internet, Pakistanis are lined up at fuel stations either praying for the fuel stations to open or waiting for generators to kick start so the fuel pumps can start working again.
The issue at hand is not the lack of resources but the lack of long term planning and farsightedness. It is the lack of setting priorities and agendas. Forming commissions and firing people who are not your relatives might be successful policies for boosting political ratings but are absolute failure in addressing the real problems. Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan State Oil, Water and Power Development Authority and the not so old passport-scandal are constant reminders that the country needs immediate structural reforms that address the way business is done in these state run organizations. One crisis after another reflects years of underinvestment, partly implemented reforms, and bureaucratic overlap and infighting. The government might have pretended to address the problems, but a far more comprehensive package of solutions is required—one that must be enacted with greater political will than yet displayed.
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