Every nation has certain characteristics that define its people at all times and all aspects of their lives. These qualities are not static, but as the nation advances they can and usually do change. Amongst their many characteristics, Pakistanis can easily be associated with their incorrigible habit of lying. So be it the political parties which make false promises to the public, or the children of the elite who defend themselves in illicit activities, or students who deny cheating in their exams, or an employee concocting an illness for his absence from work; everybody lies to everybody.
However, the fact that lying is deeply entrenched in our lives, does not justify the practice. But there is always that point, that boundary line after which lying can become detrimental to oneself and the people around. Pakistanis have crossed that line and it’s time to be honest about the state of the energy crisis.
As the energy crisis worsens with every hour, the economic and social wellbeing of the masses is turning into another playground for lying and deceit. Pakistan’s energy shortfall is approximately 6000 MW. Cities across Pakistan experience approximately 10 hours of load shedding while rural areas have an average of 12 hours of power outages. Household appliances are at risk of short circuiting with the fluctuating supply of power, students have difficulty studying and preparing for exams and other mundane activities like storing food and sleeping soundly are becoming impossible. Businesses and industries have been immensely affected. Small entrepreneurs who already have limited resources are being forced to shut business down due to losses. Large scale industrialists daily suffer losses worth millions of rupees for running factories at less than their optimal capacity.
Responses to dealing with this crisis have become very chaotic. The government is urging people to conserve electricity and is trying to regulate nationwide load shedding. But these are secondary measures; without power generation there cannot be power conservation. Conferences and meetings are frequently held to accurately gauge the extent of the problem and find economical solutions but mostly to prove to the public how disturbed our leaders are about their problems. Experts and consultants are invited to give their recommendations which are mostly the umpteenth repetitions of previous recommendations. If by rare coincidence, the recommendations are pragmatic, they fail to see the light of day. In both scenarios, implementation emerges as a major challenge. Not to mention those ingenious ideas presented and enforced by our politicians. Our felonious Prime Minister just suggested printing more currency to inject funds into power generation. It is certainly not his honest intension to cause more inflation but it’s a small price to pay for resolving a national crisis.
To add to the disarray, fraud and corruption cases over newly launched energy ventures not only sends recovery efforts back to Square One, but leave the additional mess of rectifying the damage from these illegal activities. One such example is of the rental power projects. It had immense potential to open up the Pakistani market to foreign companies and boost national supply of electricity. Unfortunately, contracts were not awarded transparently and unnecessary monetary advances were made to set up these plants.
If the government is working against the interests of the people, then it should be the responsibility of the opposing civilian leaders to a check on the government. But opposition parties in the government like to turn this into an opportunity to engage in vigilante policing to pit the public against their rivals. The more brazen politicians choose to point fingers at certain individuals who have stood in the way of developing projects like the Kalabagh Dam. Political parties often threaten to quit the government or stage protests all the while promising how their party could “fix” the crisis in a year or month or day. These threats have magnified manifold with the prospect of upcoming elections. In other words, while the public gets trampled under inept policies, all our “representatives” are worried about is their vote bank.
A new version of this vigilante policing has broadened its reach to include academics and scientists in their tussle against politicians. This week the public saw competing discourses about the Thar coal gasification project. Its in-charge, Dr. Samar Mubarak Mand has extolled the project and asserts it can resolve Pakistan’s energy problem. Thar coal mines have the capacity to produce 50,000 MW electricity and 100 million barrel diesel per year to last the next 500 years. His claims have been refuted by the planning commission which wishes to scrap the project since the tests have not been so promising.
It is extremely alarming for the public to find two authorities squabbling on who is presenting the true picture. Sweeping statements and competing discourses stall decision making and contributes to a feeling of helplessness. Mistrust continues to fester in the masses and when patience wears out, their frustration takes the shape of street protests and destruction of public property.
Like the engineer who designed a water powered generator, Pakistan is blessed with talented professionals but they hardly have the opportunity to guide our national policies. Due to the overwhelming majority of illiterate politicians, the innocent public automatically reveres the scarce professionals present in policymaking even if that means asking a lawyer to consult in a financial conundrum. The mismatched qualification of the personnel assigned to a task produces irrelevant and redundant policies which are nothing but a waste of precious resources.
The lying game may be useful to keep our politics spicy and prevent our TV shows from descending into boredom, but it should not and must not be present when the lives of common man are at stake. It’s time for Pakistan to adjust its bearings so that honesty instead of lying is synonymous with progress.
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