The government’s business

It’s not being in business

The airline which once soared high, was the pride of the nation and its pioneers help set up other airlines which are way more popular now, has finally crashed.

Through PIA’s privatisation is not new, it is again in the news. The protest that started on Feb2 has been the reason to the miseries of thousands of travellers in and out of the country and devastating for the families of the three shot dead during the protests.

The airlines in competition are gaining what they can while they can, as the operations remain still and they hike their prices for the laid off travellers.

With no transparent policy in sight, the matter is complicated by the minute.

The reason

PML-N has been trying hard to privatise the national flag carrier since it signed the three-year $6.2-billion Extended Fund Facility with the IMF and promised to reconstruct and/or privatise loss-making, state-owned entities.

Though there hasn’t been a reform in the current government the previous did try to make some. Then too, PIA threw a tantrum when they were asked to collaborate with the Turkish airlines to make it profitable.

The PIA union, which is mostly politically appointed, is quite strong, with over 19,000 employees (November 2015 figure) who make over 700 employees per aircraft and the unquestioned support of labour unions of other governmental organisations, like WAPDA and Railways.

Why Privatise?

PIA has not been adding to the GDP for quite some time now, rather is has been sucking out of the national enquirer.

“There is no other option other than privatising PIA. The government has no money to renew the fleet or pay their bills, salaries nor do they have the money to recover the debts,” Salman Shah, former finance minister, told DNA

PIA’s losses have climbed to Rs300b, the revenue is less than it is lost, the service has downgraded and worsened. The protests from the PIA union seems to be a normal trend, in October 2015, PALPA (PIA’s Pilots Association) was on strike which caused many flights to be cancelled, even on usual days the flights are delayed, on one occasion 14 pilots went on sick leave on the same day.

“The loss of PIA is the loss of the government. The mismanagement of PIA is the government’s fault,” Hassan Askari, an analyst, told DNA.

What the strikers do not understand is that if not privatised the airline is in shambles and will completely crash, making one and all jobless.

Political hay and hostility

“Privatisation has been politicised immensely; so much so that in the current context it isn’t advisable. There would be a lot more internal conflict in the country if this continues,” Hassan Askari said.

PPP, the once in favour of privatisation or reforms for PIA, has opposed the current government’s idea for privatisation.

PTI shows full solidarity with the protestors and joined them in their cause. JI has also jumped on the bandwagon.

The prime minister on the other hand, instead of sympathising or bring the matter to the table, has made a personal intervention saying that strikers would be punished with jail as they have flouted the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952.

What made matters worse was that Minister of Information Pervez Rashid termed the strikers as “enemies of Pakistan” and later mentioned that the strike is a conspiracy against the government claiming “blood of innocent protestors was shed in Karachi to make the ‘failed protest’ of [PIA] employees successful”.

Transparency

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif had successfully restructured several government-owned banks. Sharif on the advice of his trusted technocrats set up an independent board to whom the banks reported instead of a joint secretary.

There were no strikes or court cases, around 7,500 people were removed but under a transparent golden handshake programme. The bank also went into profit within a year.

To test his luck again, in June 2013, the PM called on professionals with experience in restructuring. He was given a proposal to set up a holding company which would undertake three tasks: one, liquidate virtually non-existent corporations, restructure and then sell strategic shares of 26 percent of some state corporations and only restructure and retain others including the Pakistan Steel Mills and OGDC. But the PM changed his mind by July.

PML-N also hasn’t had the best record in having any of its policy publicised, discussed or known. The ideas are never discussed in the National Assembly and everyone is kept at a distance.

Hence, the need for transparency is a must.

The employee per plane ratio is an astounding 780 employees per plane, compared to Emirates’ 220 per plane. The party said that if reformed none of its employees would be fired, which seems to be impossible.

Salman Shah thinks that it would be mere luck if anyone is even interested in buying the shares of PIA and even if they do saving all the jobs is a joke.

“If we find major investments, then some people would lose their jobs definitely. For no termination, PIA needs to add more than 200 planes. The government can’t afford it or take it out of their budget.”

Hassan Askari maintained that privatisation needs to be done once they have a proper policy. The government needs two things at the moment to main its vote bank, firstly transparency and the second how will they protect the interest of employees?

The people

The people of Pakistan have realised that it is their tax money that is been given to run the airline.

The employees of PIA should understand that even though no one would want to lose their bread and butter it’s high time to let go.

Even if they are given yet another chance, the chances of them succeeding are slim.

PIA now needs massive investment and some tough decisions. The government is in no position to make such investments.

What can be done is to terminate unwanted staff, especially political appointees. Devise a transparent plan and bring all the parties on the same page.

Being in business is not the government’s business but making policies definitely are.


Originally Published in Pakistan Today 

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