Despite the many promises made by the PTI, before coming to power, that it would retain all national assets such as giant corporations like Pakistan Steel Mills and PIA under the wings of the government and keep them as assets for the nation, this plan has changed. Before the 2018 election, and after it, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Asad Umar, who was the finance minister at that time, had said they planned to follow a scheme, similar to that implemented in Malaysia, Singapore and other countries – under which failing public-sector enterprises would be restructured and placed under new management without any loss of jobs, so that they could be made more efficient and no longer act as a drain on the national exchequer.
It appears that after two years, the government has failed in these efforts. Instead, it has now decided to move ahead with privatisation even though this means a massive loss of jobs at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has badly hit livelihood and it would be impossible for workers who are sacked to acquire new jobs, even if they have some compensation in hand to live on for some period of time. A few days ago, the government announced that 4500 of the Pakistan Steel Mills workers were being sent home, including workers at the middle level and assistants, secretaries and others involved with the largest industry in the country. It is somewhat ironic that this decision has been taken with no reference to the promises made in the past.
There had been hope that the PTI government would succeed in managing these organisations and preventing the sale of national assets. However, it seems Pakistan is left in a worse situation than before with nothing in hand, should there be a further requirement to save the country economically. Apart from the PSM, it is also expected that PIA will face job losses very soon, followed by possible privatisation. The decision taken by the European Air Safety Union to continue its bar on flights from PIA flying into Europe, after the aviation minister had announced that most pilots held false licences, has worsened the situation for the airline. There are other examples of mismanagement and failure. It is also true that even while workers are laid off from these giant public corporations, soft loans have been offered to the private sector to prevent losses and to keep these entities functioning. It is obvious that there has been a failure on a massive scale. Worse still, the government has not spoken out openly about the broken promises. And we may be moving towards the privatisation of these national assets, leaving Pakistan with less in its coffers.