Lack of staff at energy ministry delays work
Kathmandu, April 30
Visit Sanjay Sharma, chief of the Policy and Foreign Coordination Division at the Ministry of Energy (MoE), at his office and he generally starts the conversation by asking whether the talk could be wrapped up in five to 10 minutes.
“I have a lot on my plate, so I won’t be able to spare much time for you,” says Sharma, who previously served as the director general of the Department of Electricity Development.
Many civil servants generally do not make such remarks because they seem to have a lot of free time, which is spent playing computer games, like solitaire, and, until recently, browsing social media sites.
Sharma, however, does not have this luxury. Reason: his division probably shoulders the heaviest workload in the MoE.
This is because the division is the focal point for extending and renewing hydroelectricity and solar energy survey and generation licences for projects of over one megawatt (MW); granting permission for development of transmission lines; finalising agreements for development of hydroelectricity projects of less than 500MW; going through reports on Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); dealing with development partners working in the energy sector; making recommendations for foreign exchange facility; and extending approvals for tax rebates or discounts.
But to conduct all these works, Sharma has only seven staff under him.
“The number of staff in our division was almost the same when the government formed the Ministry of Energy as a separate entity around seven years ago. Since then, the number of energy projects has gone up, but we have not been given additional human resources,” complains Sharma. “It is time the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and the National Planning Commission understand the gravity of our problem. If the government remains indifferent, we will fall behind on deadlines, which will delay decision-making processes and affect development of the entire energy sector.”
To gauge the workload of the Policy and Foreign Coordination Division at the MoE, one can look into the number of hydroelectric and transmission line survey and generation licences that has been issued or is in the process of being issued.
Currently, the MoE has issued 83 survey licences for development of hydroelectric projects of over 1MW. It has received another 61 applications seeking survey licences.
This means the MoE will have to go through the same number of IEE and EIA reports, which have to be prepared once projects obtain survey licence and complete feasibility study.
The MoE has also extended 102 hydroelectric generation licences so far and has received another 77 applications seeking those licences. It has also issued 107 survey licences for development of transmission lines and another 55 licences for construction of transmission lines.
The number of licences that has been issued or is in the process of being issued indicates Sharma has to go through two files every day, considering 265 working days per year and the need to conduct annual performance review of projects that have acquired survey or generation licences.
This number, however, does not include the IEE and EIA reports and copies of project development agreements that need to be scanned every now and then.
“This means I probably have to go through four to five files every day, although I have not counted them,” says Sharma.
And, mind you, each of these documents contains hundreds of pages.
For instance, a single IEE or EIA report contains an average of 800 to 900 pages, says an official of a unit under Policy and Foreign Coordination Division, which looks into the environment sector.
“We went through over 100 such documents in the first six months of current fiscal alone,” adds the official of the unit, which has three dedicated staff.
The same problem is being faced by the project promotion unit under the Division, which issues and renews hydroelectric survey and generation licences. This unit has only one dedicated staff.
“As we’ve to perform all these duties, we find very little time to engage in discussions on policies that need to be framed for sustainable development of the sector,” says Sharma, quickly adding, “Yet, we are doing all we can to fulfil our duties.”
Of course, Sharma’s division is doing its work. But the division is probably taking two months to complete a work that could be done in three weeks. This delay in completion of works and decision-making is one of the major reasons that has prevented the country’s energy sector, especially the hydro sector, from taking off.