Don’t pay your bills

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 12:32:57 by

Imran Khan asked us not to pay our utility bills. As we  live in an environment where people say one thing when they mean something else, and then take pains to point out that they never said it in the first place, but it was pronounced by a third party, I will pretend I never heard that trenchant command. Anyway, as a large proportion of the citizenry of Karachi does not have any electricity, phone and gas connections, or generators, the injunction wouldn’t make much difference. But for a bloke like myself who has deadlines to meet, and whose UPS and generator are in the last throes of planned obsolescence, it is difficult to function without an internet connection.

Tahirul Qadri, whose eyes glitter with insight, who has such a throaty intensity that it melts one’s heart, and who has eschewed the narcissistic temptations of violence that will probably lose him the moral high ground later on, .has given the utilities a wide berth. He just wants to topple the whole apple cart, utilities and all. But of late, I have become highly critical of two of the four utilities that people abroad simply take for granted.  Of course I have a cell phone, everybody and his uncle has one, but as my broadband connection draws its nourishment from my telephone I have become highly dependent on the linesman who services the area in which I live.

The ritual usually followed a regular pattern. Around the end of the month my telephone connection would be as dead as a doornail. I would contact 1218 from my cell phone, press two, listen to two minutes of a carefully rehearsed sales spiel which gives me the impression that if I wanted to speak to Vladimir Putin all I had to do was ask. I would get a complaint number and informed that my grievance had been communicated to the proper department on a priority basis. A couple of days later when rigor mortis was about to set in I would visit the utility’s office on Khayaban-e-Muhafiz where I would be courteously received and given a fresh complaint number.

A day later I would call the linesman. The connection would be restored in six minutes flat and the technician would then drop in and tell me how much the cost of living had increase and that his wife was undergoing an operation. As this is the end of the month I made the usual pilgrimage to the complaint center. Naturally, nothing has been done so far. I can’t initiate phase two of the restoration process as the regular linesman has been transferred on the complaint of a number of subscribers who said they have been equally affected by the rise in the cost of living! So it’s temporarily back to the EVO. It’s rather like Sisyphus rolling a rock up the hill to watch it roll down again.

The company, like other major utility providers, might be a mega corporation and a leading telecommunication authority in Pakistan, as it states in its mission statement. It might be the backbone of the country’s telecommunication infrastructure in spite of the existence of a dozen other telecommunication corporations, and might manage and operate around 2,000 telephone exchanges across the country and provide the largest fixed line network. But in the repair and restoration department it is woefully slow, lethargic and inefficient. A number of people have disconnected their line connection due to official indifference and lack of interest. An overhauling is indicated. Privatisation is supposed to improve a system, not make it worse.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2014.

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