Pakistanis in UAE send more money to support families facing higher electricity bills

Demonstrators have taken to Pakistan's streets in protest over soaring utility bills and high food prices

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Pakistanis living in the UAE have said they are sending more money this month to their families back home to cover their higher utility costs.

Widespread protests in cities and towns have taken place in the South Asian country in recent days over soaring electricity bills, with many refusing to pay charges that have increased by more than three times on average.

The decision to raise taxes and electricity prices was taken by the previous government of Shehbaz Sharif in return for a $3 billion IMF bailout to avert the nation from defaulting.

UAE residents have said family and friends in Pakistan are sliding into debt to pay the higher utility charges.

We don’t even run the cooler during the day and we all sleep in one room at night
Shahzad Khan, Islamabad resident

Dubai resident Mohammed Jamil says about 200 residents from his hometown in Pakistan have refused to pay their electricity bills this month.

Charges for an air cooler and three fans in his small home in the city of Multan, central Pakistan, have surged from 10,000 rupees ($33) to more than 40,000 rupees ($130) this month.

Plan to cut charges

Mr Jamil works for a Dubai project management company and is home on holiday.

“People are on the streets, they are burning the [electricity] bills,” he told The National.

“They will have no money for food if they pay so much for electricity.”

Mr Jamil can manage the higher costs as his dirham earnings help his family tide over the current crisis following the slide of the Pakistani rupee.

“But people who live in Pakistan and earn in rupees, they just don’t have the money and are saying they will not pay the bills.”

In demonstrations in cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, citizens were protesting against government officials who are exempt from paying electricity fees.

Television footage showed people scuffling with officials from power distribution companies and setting bills on fire.

The government of interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said it is drawing up a plan to cut the charges.

Mr Kakar issued a statement saying emergency meetings were being called and “concrete steps” would be taken to reduce electricity consumption in government offices.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, he said a report had been sought for more information on free electricity supplied to government employees.

The Prime Minister said he would “even switch off the air conditioner in my room if this is needed,” Pakistani media reported.

Need for relief

But anger continues to mount against government representatives, with inflation spiralling and pushing up food prices.

Islamabad resident Shahzad Kha, said people needed quick relief from the crippling taxes.

His bill for running a room cooler and three fans for a family of five has shot up three times to more than 25,000 rupees ($82) this month.

“We don’t even run the cooler during the day and we all sleep in one room at night,” he said.

“We switch off all the lights at night. We just about manage but this is crippling the labourers. The protests will not stop any time soon.”

Raja Khalid, who works for a sports company in Dubai, told of the plight of workers in his hometown of Rawalpindi.

“It is very unfair when the bill goes from 5,000 rupees ($16) for a small house to more than 20,000 rupees,” he said.

“I can send home a little more money but when a person earns 20,000 rupees in Pakistan and needs to pay for education and food, how will the family live?

“People are angry and on the streets. We want to know why the army and government officials are getting free electricity.”

Nadeem Khan from Islamabad, a property broker in Dubai, said “the poor feel they are being looted”.

His family also crams into one room at night to conserve electricity.

“People are taking loans so they have money for groceries, for transport and to pay for school fees,” he said.

“People are really suffering. Why should the elite classes, the bureaucracy, get free electricity? That system should end. The poor should get subsidies and these taxes must stop.”

Updated: August 31, 2023, 6:25 AM