Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Sunday directed the authorities concerned to develop, within 48 hours, a concrete strategy to reduce the impact of electricity bills as protests continue nationwide over the taxes imposed that have raised tariffs to unsustainable levels.
Over the past week, demonstrations have been staged in various cities and towns across Pakistan over massive hikes in electricity bills, primarily due to the imposition of various taxes that are aimed at curtailing the circular debt. The protesters are demanding an end to free electricity for government officials and have also sought the withdrawal of taxes that experts say seek to extract revenue lost because of transmission losses and theft at the cost of paying consumers.
Convening an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s House on the unfolding situation, P.M. Kakar was given a detailed briefing on the reasons behind consumers receiving massively inflated electricity bills for July. However, per a statement issued after the meeting, it did not achieve any major breakthrough. During the meeting, the premier stressed that the interim government would not take any steps in haste that could damage the national interest. However, he said, measures would be taken that would avoid placing any additional burden on the national exchequer while also facilitating consumers.
“It is not possible that while the people face trouble, high-ranked officials and the prime minister continue to consume free electricity paid with the taxes,” he said, ordering for electricity consumption at the Prime Minister’s House and the Pakistan Secretariat to be reduced to a minimum. He also directed the relevant ministries and departments to provide complete details of officers and institutions who are receiving free electricity. Reportedly, the meeting was informed that electricity worth Rs. 1 billion was provided free to WAPDA/DISCOs employees annually against the Rs. 42/unit tariff for the average consumer.
The meeting would resume today (Monday), with expectations of some relief measures being finalized to resolve the issues being raised by protesters. “Consultations will be held with the provinces tomorrow and the caretaker government will try to provide as much relief as possible within its mandate,” the premier wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Apart from the interim prime minister, the meeting was attended by interim Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar; Commerce Minister Gohar Ijaz; Information Minister Murtaza Solangi; Adviser to P.M. Waqar Masood; the power secretary; WAPDA chairman, NEPRA chief and other relevant officials.
Last month, the cabinet of then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif approved a massive increase in the base tariff of electricity by up to Rs. 7.5/unit against the national average tariff determination of Rs. 4.96/unit by NEPRA. This was attributed to the rupee’s devaluation, high inflation and interest rates, as well as overall low sales growth. However, it is an open secret that the primary reason for this increase is to meet a IMF demand to curtail the circular debt by imposing higher tariffs on paying consumers.