Report findings: Utility big-wigs get off scot free despite graft trail

Saturday, January 18th, 2014 8:36:07 by



LAHORE: 

Seventeen top officials of Lahore Electricity Supply Company (Lesco), who are allegedly corrupt, are still working on lucrative posts without any fear of accountability and action despite an intensive government campaign to stem rampant corruption and power theft in an effort to improve the supply of electricity.

The corrupt heavyweights include two directors, two chief engineers, three executive engineers and 10 managers, says a report sent by the Government of Punjab to the chairman and chief executive officer of Lesco.

These officials were found involved in aiding and abetting electricity theft, taking bribes from owners of factories, stealing the company’s material and taking monthly charges from illegal consumers.

At present, some of them are working in the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).

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Lesco enjoys administrative control over five cities including Lahore for distribution, management and collection of bills as well as addressing consumer complaints.

On the other hand, 230 lower-grade employees including linesmen, meter readers and lines superintendents were facing departmental investigation into charges of corruption and abetting in electricity theft by factories, plazas and furnaces, said an official but requested anonymity.

“Juniors face the wrath of authorities while seniors get off scot-free,” a high official of Lesco remarked.

Drive against theft

In June last year, the Punjab chief minister constituted a task force, headed by the secretary of industries, commerce and investment, in a bid to launch a campaign to stop electricity and gas theft in the province.

Later, the task force formed committees at district and tehsil levels to conduct raids without any discrimination on places consuming gas and electricity illegally.

Since June, 32,000 raids have been conducted and 3,350 cases, involving theft of more than Rs500,000 worth of electricity each, have been registered.

In the campaign, theft of Rs1 billion had been detected until December with a major share in Lahore. However, no high official was found involved, which raised many eyebrows.

“It is a big question mark – how could consumers manage to steal a huge quantity of electricity without the connivance of officials of the supplying company,” a senior official of the task force asked.

Later, a group of company officials from directors to managers at the highest level was found patronising the nasty business, he added.

According to the report, during the campaign, Intelligence Bureau provided a list of 17 corrupt officials of Lesco to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for their involvement in electricity theft. The list was also presented to the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) for verification.

Agreeing with the list, the ISI remarked that all the officials were living beyond means and enjoying luxuries of life, which were otherwise not possible with the salaries they were receiving.

The agency also said some of them were involved in immoral activities as well. They were residing in big bungalows in posh localities.

Responding to this report, the industries secretary, who was also the chairperson of the task force, recommended to the chief minister to send the list to the chairman of Lesco board of directors, Federal Investigation Agency and the ministry concerned for initiating action against the corrupt and recovery of lost money.

The chief minister agreed that the list should be sent to the chairman/CEO of Lesco and FIA for action without mentioning the source of information. Following the approval, the industries, commerce and investment department provided the list to the chairman of Lesco on December 13.

Rules to be followed

Talking to The Express Tribune, Lesco CEO Arshad Rafique said the company had not yet received any such list.

“Action against the accused will be taken according to company rules and regulations,” he said. “They may face a major penalty (termination from services) if allegations are proved.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2014.

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