Pakistan cuts off power supply to official buildings over bill crackdown

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The Pakistani government on Tuesday cut off the electricity supply to several major official buildings for non-payment of bills, including parliament, the prime minister's offices and the president's official residence.

Pakistan is blighted by rolling power cuts, caused in part by people not paying their bills, with government offices among the worst offenders.

Ordinary people struggle without electricity for 12 to 18 hours a day in the blistering heat of summer, but up to now little action has been taken against recalcitrant bureaucrats working in air-conditioned offices.

Minister for water and power Abid Sher Ali announced an "indiscriminate drive" to recover unpaid bills and warned that all offices and customers who had defaulted would be cut off.

"I have issued orders that the electricity supply to Parliament Lodges, Parliament House and President's Secretariat should be disconnected immediately for non-payment of millions of rupees of bills," he said.

The Capital Development Authority, Islamabad's civic agency which is responsible for paying government offices' bills, owes the Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (IESCO) 2.36 billion rupees (S$30 million).

The President's Secretariat, which is the head of state's office and residence, owes 28 million rupees, while lawmakers' residential block, Parliament Lodges, had to pay 20 million rupees to IESCO, he added.

Power company officials said that electricity supply to more than 100 government offices had been disconnected over non-payment of bills.

Solving Pakistan's energy crisis was a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the runup to the 2013 general election.

But the daily power cuts, known euphemistically as "load-shedding", have already begun this year, even though there is still at least a month to go before the height of summer, when temperatures in some places top 50 degrees Celsius.

The disconnections were not limited to electricity. The state-run gas company also disconnected the natural gas supply to the prime minister's offices.

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