Breaking the Culture of Non-Payment: A Qualitative Analysis of Utility Intervention Project Sarbulandi in Karachi Electric, Pakistan


Access to reliable electricity is crucial for removing barriers to economic opportunities and human well-being. However, in many low- and middle-income countries, fiscal challenges pervade the electricity sector and threaten to dampen economic growth. These fiscal challenges are often compounded by the negative infrastructure trap, wherein poor infrastructure leads to low bill payment, hindering cost recovery that could be reinvested in infrastructure improvements. In order to address this issue, the utility Karachi Electric initiated Project Sarbulandi in 2019, which increased budgets for low performing areas of Karachi and decentralized decision-making power to the General Managers of each area. In response, General Managers took a multi-pronged approach to improving their outcomes, undertaking infrastructure upgrades, introducing staff incentives, and expanding customer engagement. Initial reports have found that these upgrades improved cost recovery and performance, even after COVID-19 lockdowns. This study is interested in how these different activities may be improving bill payment and cost recovery rates. In order to answer that question, we interviewed the General Managers implementing the program. Based on their experience, we uncover how the different activity types have worked together to decrease theft, improve service quality and increase customer trust.

Working Paper
Zhenxuan Wang
Zhenxuan Wang
Ph.D. Candidate

My research interests lie at the intersection of environmental and energy economics, climate policy, and industrial organization.