The Power Sector: MEW Tries to Make Ends Meet at PEC [Archives:2001/33/Focus]

August 13 2001

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
One of the most important development sectors is undoubtedly the power sector and the indicators of the sector are a good indication of the development of any society, when considering all the other relative factors.
Undoubtedly the Yemeni power sector saw its glory days in the Late Seventies and Eighties of the last Century, thanks mainly to the capable management and astute foresightedness of the former Minister of Electricity and Water, Mohammed Hassan Sabra, who was responsible for setting up most of the existing infrastructure assets of the sector to date.
Like all the other sectors of the Yemeni economy, the power sector saw many setbacks as the Nineties came in, with all the confusion that accompanied the decade stemming from the overall political and economic instability that characterized the transition period after unification of Yemen and the Gulf War with all the consequences that came with them.
The Public Electricity Corporation is in serious trouble these days, not so much because of the blackouts and power shedding the Yemeni people have come to think of as a way of life, but more importantly because of the financial difficulties that are astounding when the figures are analyzed. The fact of the matter is that PEC is close to bankruptcy and perhaps no one knows the seriousness of the financial crisis faced by the Republic of Yemen’s only national power utility institution than the present young and workaholic Minister, Mr. Yahya Ali Al-Abiadh.
The good thing for PEC, and there are a very few good things left to be found with the ailing utility, is that Yahya Al-Abiadh is not new to PEC, and surely has a high feel for the problems confronting the nation’s only major power source. Mr. Yahya Al-Abiadh is one of a number of young technocrats in Mr. Bajammal’s cabinet, who fully understand the challenges of working in a socio-economic environment that present a formidable nightmare to anyone who seeks to accomplish greet feats even though the obstacles seem impassable and a headache to any caliber of management.
However, to Mr. Al-Abiadh, knowing the intricacies of the problems that PEC faces, and understanding where the hidden magic of the human resources of the ailing public sector corporation lie – and believe me when I say hidden magic – is determined to make the most out of his difficult assignment of bringing PEC back above the surface. This determination is reflected in the well-organized efforts of Mr. Al-Abiadh to wage a war against those consumers who fail to understand that electricity just cannot be provided free of charge and surely it is not fair for PEC to struggle to find the money to pay the meager salaries of its staff, when well over YR 5.5 Billion are outstanding with the consumers who fail to understand that PEC has no other source of income other than the value of the electricity sold to them.
Pitifully, there is a significant sum of this money that is indebted to PEC by the Government institutions and by those big shots of Sheikhs, ministers and social dignitaries, who fail to have the appropriate consideration and the patriotic zeal of good citizenship and just think that if PEC is a government corporation, then they should have a slice of it as well!
Mr. Al-Abiadh has organized a full range of specialized teams to literally overhaul PEC, in all aspects of management. The good thing about this innovative management attempt is that instead of bringing high cost international consulting teams or experts (which has been tried by several ministers before, but without achieving any significant results), Mr. Al-Abiadh went to the inside of PEC and sought all the capable personnel that could help in restructuring the ailing institution and help bring an end to the chronic deficiencies the utility suffers from financially, technically and administratively. The wisdom of this is that perhaps no one can fully be able to identify all the intricacies of the problems faced by PEC then its very own staff, who are living with these problems every day. Moreover, Mr. Al-Abiadh knows well that no matter what caliber of personnel there are in PEC, or in any organization for that matter, unless you introduce the right motivating factors of incentives and confidence and trust, no effort can ever be productive. Thus, Mr. Al-Abiadh told his teams that “the only reason you are being asked to carry out this overhaul is because we know you can do it, and because there is really no better course for PEC to take except to ask its caliber of experienced and patriotic staff (most of whom were rendered idle by the transformations PEC went through over the last decade in its various manifestations) to literally save PEC from drowning”. On the other hand, Mr. Al-Abiadh pointed out to his overhaul teams that they must remember that their work is going to be subject to diligent monitoring and evaluation by himself personally and that results are expected very quickly.
Judging from the feedback so far form the field, even though the effort is still in its embryonic stage, it seems that there is a lot of vitality pumped back into the ailing corporation. Moreover, many of the members of these teams have shown a firm desire to prove to themselves and to the Government that they can and they will rejuvenate the Public Electricity Corporation, for the simple reason that there is now a Minister at the helms who remembered them and has confidence and trust in them and their idle capacities.
Notwithstanding all the above, it is imperative that Mr. Bajammal and Mr. Alawi Saleh Al-Salami exercise all their muscle and technocratic skills to assist Mr. Al-Abiadh in overcoming any hurdles in this overhaul campaign, mainly by working out some way to liquidate the awesome debt for fuel that PEC owes to the Government, bearing in mind that one of the main reasons for this high indebtedness is that the Government refused to allow PEC to raise its tariffs to cope with raising prices for a long time, and that even with the present price structure, it will still be difficult for PEC to make ends meet. Thus, the Government is bound to understand that PEC needs all the support it can muster, if Mr. Al-Abiadh’s overhaul campaign is to go anywhere of taking PEC from its abyss to financial viability.