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Oh brother!

July 28, 2013

Is it happenstance or destiny, that brothers of two most spirited spokesmen of N-League have hit a jackpot at PIA? How can we forget the nightly channel hopping by Tariq Azeem and Senator Mushahidullah Khan before the May polls? The latter’s colourful language and boorish behaviour on television has probably paid off. The more he abused his co-guests, the more kudos he received from the PML high command. Tariq Azeem, soft spoken and refined, was restrained and more measured in his defence of Mian Sahib.

So convincing was the performance of the duo that, by a long stretch of imagination, we can say that they pushed their man back in the PM House. Others may dismiss this premise as facetious. But hold on! Advisor on Aviation Shujaat Azeem, apart from being brother of Tariq Azeem is the co-owner of Royal Airport Services at Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar airports. It handles terminal services, cargo/ramp and Airport Traffic Control. Among his clients are Saudi Airline, Etihad Air, Gulf Air and Qatar Air. According to press reports, Azeem junior runs a similar operation in Canada. He’s a citizen of that country.

Anyone wearing blinkers may still wonder why Nawaz chose him despite three glaring conflicts of interest. First: He co-owns the Royal Airport Services, though he says he has resigned as its CEO. Actually, if media reports are to be believed, his sights were pinned on buying PIA if it got privatised — so wealthy is his empire and so apparently deep his interest in owning our national airline. Can a person expecting PIA to be put on the auction block so that he can bid on it, be made captain of the drowning ship? Perverted logic points to that’s why, stupid! To facilitate PIA’s demise, appoint corporate people at the top.

Second conflict of interest is Azeem’s reported business partner, Chaudhry Munir, the man who has been awarded the construction of of the new airport at Fatehjhang.

Third conflict of interest is Azeem’s Canadian citizenship. Azeem was a mid-level officer in Pakistan Air Force but was fired for holding a dual nationality. The Supreme Court Chief Justice has taken note of it and constituted a 3-member bench. He has expressed concern over Azeem holding a post that is of a “sensitive nature [that] involves strategic security issues”.

Being a brother of a VIP is no cardinal sin. Darn! Brothers have a life too. They can’t become a diaspora of the dispersed to be banished out of sight only because their sibling is in power. Let them live wherever they want, except in the precincts of princely grandeur enjoyed by their more fortunate bro. Or cool their heels in the air-conditioned comfort of their homes littered with freebies and limousines. No they can’t sponge off the taxpayer whose loadbearing capacity to maintain the no-good rulers and their caboodle has exceeded all limits of decency. Example: who coughed up the money for President Zardari and his entourage’s private visit to London recently?

Pakistan produces brothers who come in twos if not threes. One becomes a minister, the second automatically takes a high jump, or a double promotion as we called it in school, on his career ladder, and the third enters the private sector to make hay (read easy cash) while the brother shines. Ours is an entitlement society, where brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and their spouses along with their kids are cranked up for state benefits. Why call ourselves a democracy, when in fact, we operate under a Commonwealth government where the state is run by a compact of VIPs for the common good of their own families. Supreme Court judges, generals, air marshals, admirals starting from the chiefs, prime ministers, presidents, ministers, secretaries, parliamentarians, media celebrities — everyone with power is stained with a scandal that he/she is unable to wash off.

“A political heavyweight or two in the incumbent government remembers relatives or friends employed by PIA who were treated unjustly, obviously by the previous government, and those heavyweights make it their business to right the wrongs done unto their near and dear ones,” Dawn editorialised recently. “So it is that two brothers of Senator Mushahidullah Khan, the PML-N information secretary, have been retroactively promoted in PIA and the family believes that an injustice has been righted.”

Brothers Rashidullah and Sajidullah have won a lottery! The former is now a full-fledged deputy general manager while the latter has become a manager. And guess what? Bankrupt PIA will pay them all the dues retroactive from 2007!

As the top commander and supra captain of PIA, Shujaat Azeem has already bagged a Rs 7 billion bailout package on the pledge that he will resuscitate the dying airline in six months. And what if Azeem and his cohorts fail to meet the target? It matters not much if these recently appointed heavyweights (all very wealthy men) have generously declined to take salaries or perks that their positions carry. What matters is whether they have the entrepreneurial itch to make themselves valuable in rebuilding PIA’s brand. Can they open doors for the smart people around them who will rally around hardship if given a chance to step up; expect more from them by showing the way? The process involves huge, hard decisions of hiring and firing people and building teams.

Fortunately Nawaz Sharif no longer wants to operate as a headhunter looking for suitable candidates to fill posts waiting to be taken. He has not been successful in warding off nepotism, cronyism and favouritism. Outsourcing is then the only solution. If you want a CEO’s job in one of the 100 plus state-owned enterprises, don’t go begging to the PM Secretariat, instead send your resume to the newborn 3-men commission. All the three are (hopefully) not corrupt, therefore virus free at the moment. Their human resource firm will first vet your job application and call you in for the first interview if you are shortlisted.

Here’s a caveat: what if the HR firm fails to identify bright sparks and instead pushes the same old crooks? Anyone in the corporate world will tell you that HR, the clearinghouse for talent traffic, can either sink or sail an enterprise. It is the ballast.

Questions to be asked of a candidate: what’s the hardest situation you’ve ever been in, and how you navigated through it, advises an enterprising young CEO who prides in choosing a great team. “Ask them what’s their greatest triumph? What’s the thing that they’re most proud of that they’ve done in their career? And what are some of the core lessons they’ve learned?”