According to a to a government press release the national flag carrier Pakistan Airlines (PIA), is all set to be privatized. With the catching slogan, “Great people to fly with,” PIA, once the pride of the nation and famous internationally for its impeccable safety record, is presently causing the national exchequer, a mammoth loss of Rs 3.3 billion monthly.
The matters have come to this sorry state because of decades of undue political interference in its day to day affairs. Factors, such as over hiring incompetent individuals on the basis of their loyalty to the ruling party, from the top most official to a petty worker, have inevitably turned PIA, like the steel mill, into a white elephant, gnawing at the already fragile economy of Pakistan.
It is understandable that the politicians, being the elected representatives of the people are under constant pressure from the voters to employ them in privileged enterprises like the PIA, offering such fringe benefits as free medical care for them and their immediate family members, in addition to a good pay. But what is really hard to digest is why did the military dictators, having ruled Pakistan for the majority of its history, also have not been able to stem this gradual rot of PIA from a profit making entity into a defunct unit.
The government is convinced that initially, in the short term, the only way to bring PIA to its formal glory is to privatize twenty six percent of its shares. The government believes that by involving the forward looking, innovative and profit orientated private sector into the affairs of PIA, the faltering airline could be brought out of the present crisis.
The opposition, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), and the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), have reacted strongly to this stance of the government. Both the opposition parties have made it clear to the government that any move to privatize the national flag carrier, would be strongly resisted. The leaders of the PPP and the PTI are of the view that instead of privatizing PIA, it would be wise to initiate a comprehensive plan to stop its decline, in the short term and to take concrete measures, to bring it back to its profit making days of the past, in the long term.
But the government is adamant that the only way to restore PIA to its former glory nationally and internationally is to involve the private sector in its affairs. The prime-minister Nawaz Sharif directed the ministry of privatization and the civil aviation division to take utmost care and observe complete transparency in the privatization process so that the opposition cannot raise a finger at the government’s move.
To further complicate matters, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has issued a warning to the government of Pakistan that its analysts forecast that the economic condition and consequently its rating, is going to get worse in the coming days.
Whatever, the consequences, PIA, a prime public sector enterprise is soon to be handed over to the private sector, which bodes ill for the present employees in particular, and the whole nation in general.
Written By: Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada