Saturday, May 7, 2011

KESC: Will Karachi love it?

KESC has always been taken by the citizens of Karachi as an inefficient, corrupt, and authoritarian organization. The government-appointed, as well as the Army-deputed, Managing Directors have all been blatant failures in controlling the rot present in the organization. The Chief Engineers ran their own mini fiefdoms while the lineman was the actual supremo. To keep Karachiites happy, the government routinely pumped money until someone cautioned President Musharraf that scarce financial resources were being “hemorrhaged” trying to support the state-owned entities.

KESC was put on the chopping block and the usual motley crowd of investors representing obscure and insignificant companies in the Arab world grabbed the expensive family heirlooms at a price that General Zia would term as “peanuts”. Of course, each buyer comes up with tall promises of injecting millions of dollars and cents to make the privatized enterprises into world class organizations. In the end, the harried Pakistani tax payer foots the bill while the manna is shared by who knows who.

KESC is one such example of things going from bad to worse. Many people were of the view that with a foreign management this juggernaut would ensure that Karachi would again become the city of light. What the foreign boys did not take into calculation was that the termites have become immune to all kinds of fumigation. The real power lies not in the Boardroom but in the rat holes frequented by those many who work in this corporation. The management was conned into giving raises in salaries and perks and, taking an easy way out, they rushed to sign on the dotted line. Then the squeeze commenced. Today, the management is adrift on the high seas with no land in sight.

KESC has supposedly embarked on a plan to revamp the whole enchilada. HUBCO was touted as the savior and that a direct line from HUBCO to KESC would mitigate the shortfall (incidentally my proposal when I was Director of KESC). Unfortunately, big brother WAPDA, shylock in disguise, wants its pound of flesh. Thus KESC is still yoked to the rickety WAPDA wagon. KESC hierarchy may have to go with their hats in their hands to Siemens, General Electric, or who knows, maybe the electric motor repairman on Karachi’s Lawrence Road, and get a power plant in a fast track mode.

KESC management must understand that in the short term, they would not be able to contain the obvious sabotage being done allegedly by insiders. Those who see the end of their mini-empires, those Little Caesars, those free-loaders, and those who had the power to make lives miserable for citizens, have not yet seen the writing on the wall. They reigned supreme during the days of the bureaucrat managers. They enjoyed unbridled authority even during the times the Brigadiers, with all their pomposity, tried to operate this behemoth. They will ensure that they maintain their hold and that the foreign management would be compelled to make a Faustian deal with them. That’s when the sabotaging, the load-shedding, and the breakdowns would cease.

KESC owners have jumped into the quagmire. They have to be rescued because there is no other way they can manage to extricate from this unless they say good-bye to their investments and their capital. The government will try to come up with short-term but unpopular measures to support KESC. The recent, ill-advised decree, ordering all retail establishments to pull down their shutters by 2000 hours is a case in point. Nobody in Karachi opens shop before 1100 hours and there is no guarantee that there would be no load-shedding during the day. This is the wedding season and very soon there would be open defiance by the retailers. This system has never worked before and will not be effective now.
KESC public relations officer is overworked trying to spin doctor the faults of the KESC system. He is a regular on private TV channels and even in the press. Millions have been spent on advertisements imploring consumers to save electricity. 200 mw can be saved if each consumer switches off even one 100 watt bulb. Advertisements depicting photos of desperadoes caught snapping and stealing the wires have been splashed in all newspapers. The German Managing Director is having sleepless nights just like any other denizen of Karachi, of course while the latter stay awake because there is no power, the genial head honcho of KESC lies awake waiting for the call from his team that another major breakdown has occurred.

KESC needs the help of the citizens to overcome the ordeal. There are many ways in which this utility agency has to be propped up. Nobody is paying heed to the advertisements imploring consumers to save that 100 watt per day. People are ready to pounce and shred to pieces anyone they see from KESC. Riots are a common feature now. Hope to God, the Bushra Zaidi scenario does not develop. Since the approval rating of KESC is about the same as the temperature in the Arctic Region, other avenues have to be garnered to drive home the crucial point of saving electricity.

KESC must attract the services of those who can motivate. The following suggestions are offered:
• There are hundreds of mosques in Karachi. The imams of these mosques could be requested to propagate thru their Friday sermons the need for conserving electricity. KESC could do a quid pro quo by providing some incentives in the form of a rebate on the mosque’s power bill. The faithful tend to heed the advice of the clergy and this could work superbly.
• Sports heroes are another channel of motivation. KESC could ask the Karachi-based superstars, e.g., cricket great Javed Miandad, hockey dynamo Islahuddin, squash king Jehangir Khan, etc to come on TV and radio to illuminate the theme that we, the citizens, can make the difference. KESC could then donate a substantial amount to these heroes’ favorite charities or causes.
• Trade and Industry leaders must be invited to present the case for saving electricity and how much beneficial this would be for the country’s industrial prosperity. Karachi Chamber President, SITE Association Chairman, or even past leaders of these organizations, can go from market to market and on TV and media to present relevant facts and figures.
• Social figures, such as Abdul Sattar Edhi, Jimmy Engineer, or Dr Saira Khan, could be mustered into promoting the cause of conserving energy. People listen to them because they are sincere and have the welfare of the people at heart. KESC could then support their projects.
• School children are tremendous sources of motivation. The KESC CEO must get going a project to involve the children. Schools could be provided incentives if they allow their children to be drawn into programs that help orient people about saving a bulb or two.
• KESC must continue to be vigilant in apprehending those that resort to sabotage. It is advised that they should invite topmost detective agencies from Europe or USA to prepare the master plan for high-tech security and surveillance.
• KESC must act fast in curtailing frivolous expenditure, in reducing transmission and distribution losses, in immediately increasing the load it gets from HUBCO, and in becoming a citizen-friendly benevolent enterprise rather than the present perception of a repressive monolithic entity.

KESC owners and managers must understand that just by change in management things will seldom improve. Privatization is desirable and imperative but it is not a panacea. Changing title-holders or changing guards does not always bring fundamental change. There is need to bring real change in the system, in its employees, and in its vision. The citizens would then identify with KESC and embrace it as their own. The pragmatic poet Iqbal Azeem very bluntly put it:

Badalna Hai Toh Rindo Se Kaho Apna Chalan Badlein
Faqth Saqi Badalnay Se Maikhana Na Badlay Ga

June 15-2006

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