KARACHI: Cash-strapped Pakistan plans to save $1 billion per year through a new energy conservation plan that calls for, among other measures, closing markets across the country earlier than normal business hours, according to a government document, though Pakistani business leaders have rejected the proposal as “unrealistic” and “illogical.”
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal this week announced that the National Economic Council (NEC) had approved a proposal to close all markets across the country at 8pm from July 1.
The move is part of a larger scheme by the government to spur economic growth through an action plan called Export, E-Pakistan, Environment and Climate change, Energy and infrastructure and Equity and Empowerment or 5Es framework and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a brain child of the planning ministry.
The energy conservation plan and associated implementation roadmap was approved by the federal cabinet in January 2023 while the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Policy 2023, prepared by the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (NEECA), was approved by the federal cabinet on May 10, 2023.
“The easy to deploy short- and medium-term administrative measures proposed under this conservation plan could save estimated outflow of USD ($) One billion per annum in terms of energy saving,” a government document seen by Arab News said.
Listing measures under the plan, the document said:
“The closure of commercial markets at 8 pm which will result in annual energy saving of 2.85 billion electricity units and will offer a financial saving of 282 million USD, Ban on the incandescent bulbs which will result in a saving of 1 billion electricity units in a year with a financial benefit of 103 million USD, Mandatory installation of the conical baffles in the water geysers which will save 419 million USD.”
Overall, the long-term implementation of the NEECA policy measures will result in financial savings of $6.4 billion from 2030 onwards, according to official estimates.
The South Asian nation last attempted to enforce early market closures in June and December 2022 but was met with resistance from traders. This time too, Pakistani traders have rejected the government’s plan, saying it will cause revenue and job losses at a time that the country is grappling with record inflation, fiscal imbalances, and low reserves.
“We strongly reject the government's plan to shut down markets at 8pm,” Kashif Chaudhry, the president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan, a central body of traders, said in a statement. “The decision has been taken in haste without consulting traders. It is an unrealistic plan.”
Chaudhry called the plan an “enemy of traders and the public,” and said such “illogical energy conservation plans” had also failed in the past.
Atiq Mir, the chairman of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, the main business association in the city, concurred with Chaudhry.
“The decision is not practicable,” he told Arab News. “Such decisions were taken in the past and could not be implemented.”
Retail sector stakeholders said the government’s decision would impact both revenue generation and employment rates.
“I think the decision taken is not realistic under the current economic downturn and would put the livelihood of around three million people at stake,” Rana Tariq Mehboob, the chairman of the Chainstore Association of Pakistan (CAP), told Arab News.
“This decision will hit the economy with around Rs3.6 trillion losses while it is already reeling under the impact of slowdown.”
Experts also said there was little hope the new plan would be implemented.
“They will not be able to implement this time too,” Ammar Habib Khan, an economist and energy expert, told Arab News. “Due to weak administration and weak enforcement mechanisms, you can’t implement this energy saving action plan … In fact, there is no will to enforce it.”
Ahsan Iqbal and other planning ministry officials did not respond to Arab News queries about expected measures to enforce the energy saving plan.