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NA committee tasked with pulling PIA out of trouble

Updated December 03, 2014

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PIA aircraft standing on runway in Karachi. — PPI/file
PIA aircraft standing on runway in Karachi. — PPI/file

ISLAMABAD: Member after member in the National Assembly bemoaned the fall of PIA from one of the top airlines in the world, to what a minister called its ruin before a standing committee of the house was tasked on Tuesday to ponder over how to fix the troubled national carrier.

The house unanimously passed a private member’s resolution urging the government to take immediate steps to improve the standard of Pakistan International Airlines after lawmakers from nearly all parties complained about its deterioration in almost every respect, from dependence on ageing planes, cut in services to both domestic and international destinations, delayed flights and cancellation of bookings for allegedly invalid reasons.

Most of the first private members’ day of the present session, which began on Monday, was consumed by a debate on PIA’s dismal affairs.

However, MQM members complained that Karachi’s Urdu-speaking population was being denied their due share in government jobs as the party hijacked a Jamaat-i-Islami call-attention notice over what it called non-restoration of “son quota” of retired employees of Karachi Port Trust (KPT).

None of the five private bills listed on the agenda could be moved because their authors were absent from a sparsely attended house.

Winding up the debate on a resolution moved by PPP’s Shahida Rehmani in October, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed acknowledged that PIA’s was “a long story of ruin” with many of its aircraft lying as skeletons and its 600 pilots not having enough planes to fly.

But the government, he said, injected funds into the airlines to reduce its foreign debt, lease planes from foreign airlines, appoint competent officials and cleanse it from corruption. The national carrier was suffering a loss of Rs48 billion annually.

The minister proposed formation of a special committee of the house, including two to three members from each party who could give their input, to discuss PIA’s affairs with its senior executives and the standing committee.

But strangely, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who chaired the sitting, sidestepped the minister of state’s suggestion and instead referred the issue to the standing committee on cabinet division, which oversees PIA, with the directive that other members of different parties could join the deliberations as special invitees.

Several members criticised the curtailment of PIA’s services from their home towns like some flights to Gulf countries from Peshawar, and domestic flights to and from Quetta, Chitral and Bahawalpur, while a corpulent MQM member, Sardar Nabil Gabol, complained about seats of some newly-inducted planes as being too narrow for him and another member of a similar stock from the ruling party, and: “We come standing” (in the plane).

Ports and Shipping Minister Kamran Michael told the house there was no legal “son quota” for retirees from KPT except for giving jobs to sons of employees dying or becoming disabled while on job.

It was during his answers to persistent questions from Jamaat members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about what they regarded as a contractual obligation to give jobs to the sons of KPT retirees that MQM members Abdul Rashid Godail and Asif Hasnain jumped in to complain of the due share of jobs being denied to what Mr Godail called the “descendants of the builders of Pakistan.”

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2014