According to the Power Division, electricity worth Rs. 380 billion was “stolen” in the last fiscal year, with estimates of this climbing to Rs. 520 billion in the ongoing fiscal. This is most commonly done by tapping directly into a power line—colloquially known as a kunda—rather than through an energy meter, allowing for the consumption of unmeasured energy without requisite billing. This is often done with the facilitation of local officials, who either look the other way or partake in the theft themselves. There is little in the way of penalties, as more than 55,000 complaints of electricity theft only yielded 528 arrests over the past year.
Similarly, the Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) has claimed to have detected over 325,000 cases of gas theft in the past three years, recovering Rs. 2.4 billion from people involved in theft. The problem of utility theft has snowballed in recent years, with Islamabad failing to effectively tackle it, as punitive action is rarely proportional to the enormity of the crime. What’s even more worrisome is that these are all limited resources, the theft of which encourages imports that have proven punishing for the country’s foreign exchange reserves and played a key role in the ongoing economic turmoil.
A few years back, economist Nadeemul Haque warned of the looming crisis, noting rampant outages. “At the root of this crisis lies poor governance,” he wrote, lamenting that despite this both authorities and aid donors continued to pursue “costly and ultimately ineffective interventions.” Unfortunately, no steps have been taken by successive governments to correct their deficiencies, leading to hefty bills that the common man is unable to pay, propagating a vicious cycle that burdens paying consumers with ever-higher bills.
The state of Pakistan appears to finally be waking up to the crisis, but there is much that needs to be done beyond “crackdowns” if solutions are to be sustainable in the long-term. Expanding the tax net and allowing zero tolerance for theft of any sort are key steps, but unless the government can stabilize the national currency, there is little expectation of relief so long as the country remains dependent on imports for its survival.