Powering people’s future | Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif

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As I boarded the helicopter headed for Qadirabad to attend the inaugural ceremony of the first unit (660MW) of the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant, I was overwhelmed by the deep sentiments of humility and gratitude to Allah Almighty whose special blessings enabled us to deliver on a commitment that has made a world record and stunned foes and friends alike.

Never in the world has a coal-fired project of such a size been completed in such a short duration. The Chinese engineers working on the project bettered their own record of building a project of this size by completing the construction of the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant in 22 months. The project has also been commissioned six months ahead of its scheduled date of completion – i.e. December 2017.

The Sahiwal Coal Power Plant is not just a development project. It is a story of dedication, commitment and hard work in the service of people amid trying and challenging circumstances.

The symbolism of the project lies in the fact that it is not only the first mega coal power project of Pakistan’s history but also the first power project of CPEC that has come online. By constructing this project in record time, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sent out a loud and clear message to all stakeholders that the people of Pakistan mean business and the leadership’s commitment to the completion of CPEC projects as per their timelines is unwavering and absolute.

Though the past governments have been trying to do business with China, it was during the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that China has rolled out world’s largest investment portfolio of worth $55 billion. This reflects China’s trust and faith in the leadership of the prime minister, transparency of his government’s policies, confidence in his past record of public service and ability to deliver on commitments on time.

The mega development projects that are coming online across the country at an unprecedented speed will be the lasting legacy of the prime minister. In a span of two years only, minarets of development and prosperity are being erected that will transform the landscape of Pakistan by building a cluster of industrial parks, power projects and communication and infrastructure networks. They will be the building blocks of Pakistan’s journey towards progress and will put the country in the league of developed nations.

I remember when the prime minister made a pledge with the nation in 2013 to end power outages for good. He was clear that Pakistan’s quest for progress will remain unfruitful unless the energy deficit that took such a heavy toll on our economy was taken care of. While the resolve was there, a full understanding of the enormity of the challenge at hand was also there. The million-dollar question was where the money would come from to translate the promise into a reality. It was then that Allah Almighty opened the door in the form of CPEC. The rest, as they, is history.

The conclusion I draw from this experience is that if you have the right intention and the will to serve people, Allah Almighty helps you in different ways.

When the all-important visit of the Chinese president was being planned in September 2014 – when the CPEC agreements were to be signed – the dharna politics was in full swing. The leader of the protesting party was contacted diplomatically at the highest level with the request to end the sit-in in view of the delicacy and importance of the Chinese president’s visit. He refused to do so and resultantly, the presidential visit could not happen before April 2015, thereby wasting precious time of the nation.

Just imagine had such a hurdle not been created, the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant would have been commissioned a long time ago that would have significantly reduced loadshedding and thus provided relief to people. To throw spanners in the works, a similar effort was made in the form of threats of lockdown but thankfully, the country survived the politics of sabotage.

The significance of the Sahiwal Coal Power Project becomes all the more glaring when seen in the context of time and cost overruns in the Neelum-Jhelum, Diamer- Bhasha and Nandipur power projects. The former military dictator had the gall to perform the groundbreaking of the dam at a time when even land for the project had not been acquired. Likewise, the cost of the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project that was estimated to be $800 million has now shot up to $5 billion in the last 18 years. It is now that the project is nearing completion, thanks to the personal interest of the prime minister.

The Sahiwal Coal Power Plant has been constructed at the cost of $1.8 billion. Three power projects of Sahiwal power plant’s size could be set up with the money incurred on the Neelum-Jhelum.

The world record of the fastest construction could never have been set up without the excellent coordination between various organisations and ministries and departments of the federal and provincial governments. It is a commendable example of what inter-agency cooperation can achieve if there is an unwavering leadership commitment behind a project.

This project is also a testimony to the hard work, commitment and thorough professionalism of the project team. Our Chinese friends who worked on this project even during holidays such as the Chinese Spring Festival have made us eternally grateful.

This project marks the beginning of Pakistan’s journey towards self-sustainability in energy generation. About a couple of years ago, using coal for power generation at such a large-scale sounded like an ambitious idea. There was apprehension whether or not international investors would come to Pakistan and make an investment of this magnitude.

Our problem is not merely the generation of energy that is sufficient to meet our increasing demands but also the production of cheap and affordable energy for our socio-economic growth. This project is a step forward towards the generation of inexpensive electricity at the rate of Rs8.11 per unit.

Adverse criticism came from our political opponents who doubted our ability and sincerity to deliver on our promises. However, the completion of this project in record time is proof that when we commit, we deliver. We are driven by the resolve of bringing about transformation in the lives of people. We cannot allow darkness to darken the path of the public.

It is our firm resolve and ardent hope that before the summer of 2018, darkness will be replaced by light and the torment of loadshedding by the comfort of smooth life. Never again will our people be subjected to hardships inflicted by power outages. Never again will our socio-economic growth suffer. Roshan Pakistan is our destination, to which all our efforts are directed. I firmly believe that where there’s a will there’s a way.

This article has been excerpted from a speech delivered by the writer at the inaugural ceremony of the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant

The writer is the chief ministerof Punjab.

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