Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has decided to allow public sector employees to work from home on Fridays in a bid to conserve fuel and electricity amid a deepening energy crisis facing the country.
“The work-from-home policy was inspired by the rising prices of electricity and oil,” Taimur Khan Jhagra, the provincial finance minister, told VOA on Tuesday. He spoke a day after presenting the budget to the regional legislature in Peshawar, the provincial capital.
He argued that various private sectors across the world are incorporating work-from-home in their own respective ways, and his government has taken the initiative to introduce the policy in the public sector to deal with growing financial and energy challenges.
“In a government of 600,000 people, if half of them can actually work from home, the fuel savings and the electricity savings we believe will amount to between 2 and 5 billion rupees ($1=205 rupees) a year, which for a government like ours is a huge savings,” Jhagra noted.
The provincial minister explained government departments will identify staff that actually do need to work on Friday, but crucial services such as the police, schools and hospitals will continue to run beyond four days a week.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Afghanistan, is Pakistan’s third most populous province. It is being governed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former prime minister Imran Khan.
The energy conservation measure follows a similar decision by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s fiscally constrained government earlier this month to eliminate Saturday as a workday and cut the volume of fuel allocated to its employees by about 40%, while considering the option of work-from-home on Fridays.
Pakistan is facing a shortfall of 7,000 megawatts in its electricity generation. The country has an installed capacity of 35,000 megawatts, and demand during summer season peaks at 27,000 megawatts.
But officials said only about 20,000 megawatts of electricity is currently being produced because independently operated power plants that rely on imported fuel have sharply reduced production as a result of rising oil prices amid Russia’s war on Ukraine. They noted that hydropower generation also has been far below capacity because of a lack of rain in Pakistan.
The power crisis has led to hours of daily planned blackouts across Pakistan, undermining business activities and life routines. Parts of the country experience temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) in summer.
Officials cautioned that the supply-and-demand crisis will persist throughout the summer season until imported fuel prices drop. The energy crisis has drawn strong criticism from Sharif’s unity government, which came to office in April.
Cash-strapped Pakistan urgently needs the International Monetary Fund to restart a bailout package amid rising global oil prices. Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves are also rapidly depleting and stood at about $9 billion as of Monday, barely enough to subsidize several weeks of imports.
The delay in securing the IMF deal has worsened Pakistan’s energy crisis. The government unveiled a $47 billion budget Friday for 2022-23, which is aimed at tight fiscal consolidation in a bid to convince the IMF to restart much-needed bailout payments.
The international lender wants Islamabad to bring its budget for the new fiscal year starting next month in line with the objectives of the $6 billion bailout program.
“Our preliminary estimate is that additional measures will be needed to strengthen the budget and bring it in line with key program objectives,” said Esther Perez Ruiz, the IMF country representative.
Pakistan’s finance minister said Saturday the IMF had expressed concerns about the budget numbers, including fuel subsidies, a widening current account deficit, and the need to raise more direct taxes.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.