Bereaucracy stumbling block to power development: Sharma

Minister for Energy Janardan Sharma Prabhakar is in the limelight for ending the load-shedding in the capital of late. Sharma said that he had been working hard to do away with the power outage from the country from the very first day in office. "I brought a 37-point commitment paper with a view to reducing the load-shedding hours this year and completely end it from the country within two years," he said, adding that he would not only end the load-shedding from the country but would also strive to rekindle the people's hope for the development of the energy sector essential to fuel economic growth and prosperity.

Yogesh Pokharel of The Rising Nepal talked to Minister Sharma on issues of the power sector ranging from his plans and problems related to the unbundling of the Nepal Electricity Authority and expediting the incomplete projects, among others.

Excerpts:

You have declared to provide uninterrupted power supply to the Kathmandu Valley this year and gradually to places outside the Valley. There was a huge gap between the demand and supply of power. How did you manage to provide uninterrupted power during the Dashain and Tihar festivals in the Kathmandu Valley?

Availability of adequate energy is the basis for this. One is to manage the unremitting power supply by making minimal use of the existing available power, while another way is to increase power supply to the national grid by means of alternative sources. We are trying our best to convince the general public, government offices and business/industry community to use as little power as possible. We are also looking for a few alternative sources to add power to the national grid.

But how did it become possible all of a sudden?

Notion and commitment are the key to achieving this success. I had started pondering over the issue of load-shedding as soon as my name figured in the media as the energy minister.

Similarly, as soon as I took the oath of office and secrecy, I called on the staff at the ministry to support me in my endeavour to end load-shedding. I asked them to help implement my plan. I brought a 37-point commitment paper. Ending the existing load-shedding was on the top of my agenda. I told them that I would set the target, and they needed to be ready to meet it.

Similarly, I went to the Nepal Electricity Authority on the third day of assuming office. There also I directed the staff to control leakages and recover the outstanding electricity dues from the government and private institutions at any cost. Then I went to Dhalkebar and instructed the contractors and NEA staff to work 24 hours, 7 days. I called the contractor of Chameliya Hydropower Project, which had been in limbo for a long time, and instructed him to start work and complete it on time. Similarly, I also visited the problematic transmission line projects. I listened to their problems and directed the concerned authorities to resolve the issues. I also focused on maintenance to lessen the power leakages. I established a separate complaints management centre at the ministry to address the public concerns of the people related to power.

In a nutshell, setting a target and working with commitment to meet it were the basis for the success. However, I still need people's support to sustain it.

It has been more than three months since you took charge of the ministry. What do you see as the major stumbling block to the development of the power sector?

The main problem, as in other sectors, is in the working style of our bureaucracy and its thinking. There is lack of responsibility and accountability among the civil servants. We have a culture of obstructing works and keeping them lingering for months/years in the name of following the process or rules. We need to bring revolutionary change in the bureaucratic system. Pessimism runs high among the people due to this. That is why ending the power outage is related to reviving optimism among the people and laying the foundation for the economic development and prosperity of the country.

Many projects initiated by the NEA and other government bodies have been inordinately delayed for years. What are you doing to speed them up?

I have already instructed the concerned authorities to speed up the construction works by visiting the sites. I have asked them to share their problems and also asked for their timeline to complete the projects. The work of the Chameliya Hydropower Project has already been accelerated. They have already completed the maintenance of more than 60 metres of the squeezed part of the tunnel.

Similarly, I have given instructions to speed up the construction of the transmission line projects. In spite of my efforts, the progress of a few projects has not moved in line with my spirit. This is not because of my ministry's problems. There are several problems related to other ministries. There is lack of coordination among the government agencies, too.

As I did not get any support from the earlier NEA leadership, I was compelled to change it. I wanted to meet the expectations of the people by providing respite from the perennial power outage. I installed a new leadership and entrust him with the target. I asked him to make a 'bright Dashain' and asked for his plan. You now see the MD running to the site himself.

Are there any other plans to increase power supply to the national grid?

Yes, besides managing the existing power, we have also called proposals from the interested parties to add power to the national grid. We have received letters of intent from 19 companies, and the process of their evaluation is going on.

There is talk of unbundling the NEA to resolve the problems in the power sector.

We have already decided to unbundle the existing structure of the NEA at the policy level. The work of organisational restructuring is going on. However, it has been delayed, and they have failed to meet the target I had given to them. The NEA will be restructured, both financially and organizationally, to make it an efficient and vibrant organisation.

As we know, electricity is a lucrative business. The NEA should have been one of the richest organisations in the country. We need to revamp the structure of the NEA so as to make it financially sound and efficient. Similarly, I have initiated work to establish separate companies for the sectoral and specialised works of the institutions.

It is said that Nepal needs to go for a few reservoir-based projects to end the load-shedding in the long run. Projects like the Budhigandaki, West Seti and Pancheshwor, among others, serve this purpose. But these projects are moving at a snail's pace. Do you have any plans to expedite them?

I have already given instructions to complete the land acquisition for the Budhigandaki Project within three months. I am working with a view to laying the foundation stone of the physical construction of the project shortly. However, the lack of coordination among the government agencies has hindered the works badly.

Similarly, I am trying to contact the concerned authority of the West Seti project. However, they have not come into contact despite my frequent attempts. I have already sent a message that the government would take harsh action if it did not proceed with the work on time.

Work on the Pancheshwor is underway. As it is a bilateral project, the teams of the two counties are working on it. Work to finalise the detailed project report is underway.

Transmission grids are another big problem in the power sector. What are your plans to resolve this problem?

The state policy itself is totally wrong and against development. The state should have control over the land. The state should be able to use any land by providing appropriate compensation to the rightful owners. However, the projects are being obstructed due to the land problem. Not only this, many land mafias play foul and obstruct the projects for years by bargaining on the price of the land. This should be ended soon.

Foreign investment in the hydropower sector is not possible until Nepal signs the PPA in US dollars, but many people are opposed to it. How will you settle the issue?

When we are in the process of implementing mammoth hydropower projects and building transmission lines, Nepal needs foreign investment in foreign currency. If a foreigner comes to invest in foreign currency, he wants repatriation of his money in foreign currency. Of course, there is a risk in signing the PPA in US dollars because of the fluctuation of the dollar against the Nepali currency. But we do not have other options. The government will set up an appropriate mechanism like a hedge fund to reduce the risk arising from the currency exchange fluctuation.

Anything you would like to add?

Energy is the basic infrastructure for the economic development and prosperity of the country. I have brought a new slogan, "Nepalko pani janatako lagani" - Nepal's water, people's investment. I am working to provide hydropower shares to all Nepalis. Nepal can make a leap in economic development and prosperity if we develop hydropower.

 

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