Pakistan on track to end power shortages within two years - ADB

ISLAMABAD, June 20 (Reuters) - Pakistan could end energy rationing within two years, the Asia Development Bank (ADB) country director for Pakistan said on Monday, adding weight to government claims that they will end frequent outages in time for the 2018 elections.

Analysts say if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government manages to eradicate “load-shedding”, the electricity rationing system which leads to several hours of scheduled outages every day, it would significantly boost his chances of securing another term in office.

Pakistan’s economy has been hobbled by energy shortages over the past decade, with businesses saying they deter foreign investment and hurt productivity. Electricity shortages were among the main election issues in the 2013 poll won by Sharif.

ADB is lending Pakistan more than $1 billion over five years as part of efforts to end Pakistan’s chronic energy crisis and implement reforms such as privatising parts of the sector and improving transparency.

Werner Liepach, ADB’s country director for Pakistan, said the bank was “broadly satisfied about progress being made” in Pakistan with energy sector reforms.

When asked at a news conference if load shedding could be eradicated in two years, Liepach was categorical: “Yes”. He added it was possible to be done even sooner but it would depend on other factors, such as global oil prices.

Sharif’s government has made reducing energy shortages a top priority, embarking on construction of new dams, coal-fire power plants and renewable energy projects.

Energy Minister Khawaja Asif said the South Asian nation week had last week hit record production generation of 17,350 megawatts (MW), though production shortfalls varied between 1,500MW and 4,700MW through the week.

Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Richard Balmforth