LAHORE: All the stakeholders have rejected the proposal of privatising the national flag carrier, stating if any party buys Pakistan International Airlines outright, the government will have to pay Rs200billion to offset the liabilities and loans on government guarantees. This, they maintain, the government cannot afford.
The stakeholders The Nation talked to are of the view that the only viable option is to seek a reputable firm or group willing to buy 25 to 28 per cent of PIA shares with exclusive management rights, whilst the government retains its own shares, and at the moment tries to absorb the existing liabilities.
A retired deputy managing director, who wished not be named, says that going for privatisation will not be in favor of the government as well as PIA which, according to him, is suffering losses to the tune of Rs100 million on a daily basis. He says the privatisation process is a lengthy one and could be completed within two to three years, but could take up to five years due to the brewing security situation in the country. The retired DMD further says during the privatisation process PIA will have to bear unavoidable losses of Rs36 billion per annum which, he opines, the government cannot afford. Then, he adds, expertise of an officer well-conversant with financial and legal aspects of the privatisation process will be required, and if a foreign consultancy has to be hired their charges may run in millions of dollars.
According to a retired PIA engineer, privatising the national flag carrier will not be a solution to the issue. He says [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif had during his election campaign promised steps to restructure PIA and restore it to its past glory. He complains the same team, which was responsible for institutionalised corruption-cum-pilferage of revenues, is still at the helm even though Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has been in the government for the past three months.
The return of a controversial former air force officer as the adviser aviation, in violation of Supreme Court’s orders that no dual national could hold a public office, is a testimony to this assertion. The officer in question was discharged once being court martialled. Coming back, he handpicked his favourites he had been running a non-governmental organisation with as members of board of directors, with an obvious conflict of interests vis-a-vis his business interests of running a ground handling agency and being involved in the contract for construction of new airport in Islamabad.
Within weeks the apex court intervened and rejected this appointment. Although almost two months have elapsed, there is neither a chairman nor the eight members that would constitute the board of directors, which is solely mandated to take all policy decisions, make executive appointments, promotions and financial approvals.
The irony of the situation is that another controversial appointment of a matriculate has been made against senior executive assignment of DMD. In principle, any appointment to this level could only be made by the board of directors.
Since Nawaz Sharif-led government has taken over, three blue-eyed people have been promoted as deputy general managers and are being sent on foreign postings, despite the fact that they lack the required qualification and requisite experience for the post(s). Two of these blue-eyed are real brothers of a PML-N senator, while the third individual had been turned down by a duly-constituted promotion board earlier.
According to office-bearers of a PIA employees’ union, the federal government will have to funnel into this bottomless pit Rs36 billion each year or Rs3 billion every month which is way above the subsidy allocated for millions of poor Pakistanis to help them afford wheat.
The members of People’s Unity of PIA Employees, popularly known as CBA, further say the half-hearted steps witnessed these 90 days to set things right and the appointments on favoritism all reveal the dominant culture of political appointments or cronyism. Running PIA as a state-owned corporation, under a management nominated by the politically-elected government and subject to bureaucratic-cum-political controls, will be a Herculean task, with a few chances of success, they warn.
Seeking anonymity an office-bearer of Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association says PIA is a national asset and should be protected at any cost. He is of the view that implementation of the policy of appointments on merit alone could make a huge difference and would go a long way making PIA profitable. He says once PIA was a profitable airlines; it had repute and credibility; it had the best and most disciplined and dedicated group of pilots, engineers, sales executives and traffic officers; and one found involved in any kind of financial or administrative irregularity was immediately sacked after a transparent enquiry.
Drawing a comparison between PIA of yesteryears and today, the PALPA office-bearer says when former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had requested PIA chairman Nur Khan for holding up a flight for 10 minutes in Karachi, his request had been denied. Both Rafique Saigol and Nur Khan had been given a freehand during their tenures as PIA chairman and the credit for that of course went to Bhutto because the national flag carrier had been in shambles after the 1971 tragic dismemberment of Pakistan due to the devastation inflicted by air vice marshal Zafar Chaudhry and his deputy air commodore Khaqan.
Indiscipline in today’s PIA is evident from the fact when a junior first officer on September 1 insisted on driving his car onto tarmac to be loaded for transportation to Karachi, delaying flight PK-303 for over 20 minutes.
An office-bearer of Society of Aircraft Engineering Pakistan (SEAP) says that favoritism and nepotism is on the rise in the national flag carrier which Thursday’s countrywide protest of PML-N backed PIA employees against the recent recommendations of the foreign posting boards reflected.
Air League office-bearers are of the view that all the associations of PIA officers and employees are against the decision wherein five PIA officers were awarded foreign postings in violation of the rules. They however brand it a conspiracy against the incoming government. A SEAP representative says the government needs to curb such practices and introduce transparency in postings and promotions.
Another senior PIA officer says the government’s decision of creating a separate aviation division, completely free of any administrative control of Defense Ministry is a wise step. They also say that mere creation of a separate aviation division headed by an independent federal secretary alone will not bear any fruit unless the culture of cronyism, nepotism, indiscipline and massive irregularities is not surgically cleansed.