How to stay safe (or not) during a Technical Due Diligence Project in Pakistan

Streets in Pakistan

The Lahmeyer team is sitting inside a car driving through packed streets during the rush hour of the Pakistani city of Multan. The weather is hot and humid. I am sweating. The car is traveling at high speed and without stopping. We are accompanied by two police cars escorting us. The officer sitting on the bed of the pickup truck in front of us is carrying a Kalashnikov. The barrel of the gun is permanently pointed towards our car. We trust that the officer has secured his weapon. Yet we hold our breath on every pothole the car gets shook by.

Restructuring the Pakistan Power Sector

The Government of Pakistan (GOP) is implementing a comprehensive reform and restructuring programme of the Pakistan Power Sector. This process is part of the approved Power Sector Strategic Plan for corporatisation, commercialisation and subsequent privatisation.

In early 2015, Lahmeyer International was contracted by a Pakistani investor to act as the lenders engineer. Our task was to inspect and evaluate the oil-fired 1,350 megawatt Muzaffargarh power plant close to Multan in Pakistan. The focus in this project was the due diligence of the almost 20-years old plant. Furthermore, we have been asked to investigate the possibility of converting the plant to be operated with hard coal as fuel. The easy question was whether there is space for locating the coal storage. Further, we had to investigate the possibilities and risks of converting the boiler and flue gas cleaning systems to the solid fuel.

Nerve-wracking saftey measures

We travelled to Multan with a delegation of three Lahmeyer colleagues. For one of my colleagues and I, the site visit was also our first trip to Pakistan. The mainly Urdu speaking country touches the south Himalaya and has a population of around 200 million inhabitants. Unfortunately, in recent years, the country, has not had the best reputation in the media. Not only crime and domestic political tensions, but also cross-border conflicts of radical religious groups are omnipresent. Hence and as a safety precaution, we were escorted by armed police troops during all movements outside the hotel. If this leads to unnecessarily increased attention remains an open question. In any case, the protocol required this procedure. As a result, we experienced the above mentioned nerve-wracking ride with the police convoy between hotel and power plant every morning and every evening.

Due Diligence - Stacks of Muzaffargarh power plant

Power plant investigations

The plant itself was in a very acceptable condition. Most of the mechanical and structural parts still worked and gave the system an availability of about 75-80%. In other words, the systems operational availability of 100 planned hours is 75-80 hours. For systems that are not maintained properly, the availability may drop to levels below 70%. At the end, all the mechanical, electrical and control systems were in good condition.

After the visual inspection, we read through the power plant documentation. To our surprise this was still mainly done on handwritten notes. Through this we were able learn more about the previous operation and maintenance of the power plant. In addition, we held meetings with the operations and maintenance staff of the plant.

The executed due diligence identified a few and almost negligible weaknesses of the plant. At the end the evaluation did not show any critical parameters. However, the investigations about the oil to hard coal conversion of the plant showed no positive results. The place for the potential coal storage was already reserved for a new and possible power plant extension. Further the necessary technical conversion measures within the boiler and the flue gas cleaning system made this option unfeasible from financial and economic point of view.

Sales rumours of the plant have already resulted to protests of the power plant staff in the past. For this reason, safety precautions where again organised by the client. While moving on the plant facilities, the Lahmeyer delegation was permanently surrounded by armed security personnel. In the end, however, we were supported by very friendly and helpful power plant employees.

Dinner with a twist

After a successful investigation and the promising results, we were looking towards a quiet last evening. The Lahmeyer team met the power plant management for a dinner to close the site visit. In the chosen restaurant, we sat in-between families, business people and young couples. The restaurant was located at a small and quiet lake. Along the lakes promenade many young people and couples took an evening walk. The restaurant as such served incredibly delicious Pakistani food. Yet and as the protocol requested and we were again surrounded and guarded by police forces.

The fact that we were guarded in the restaurant is one thing. That the police escorted one to the toilet is another. At first, I did not recognise the officer following me. Hence, I was very surprised when I found the barrel of a Kalashnikov pointing at me exiting the toilet.

After coming back home, the Lahmeyer team compiled the collected information to a closing report. Summarizing, the team was of the opinion that the project as such was very interesting from technical point of view. The good experiences we had while traveling Pakistan supported this opinion. Yet the safety measures where a bit confusing. Apparently that is something someone has to get used to.

One thought on “How to stay safe (or not) during a Technical Due Diligence Project in Pakistan

  1. People from LI are quite adaptable to the atmosphere in Pakistan and we are quite hospitable and protective towards the people from LI. I have had some very good bosses from LI such as Dr. Robert Walker and learnt a lot from him. Hope the travels and experience of LI with Pakistani people may change the World’s perception of safety offered to foreigners.

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