ISLAMABAD: Even though two parliamentary bodies — the Special Parliamentary Committee and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) — could not sort out differences over the privatisation of the national flag carrier, a proposed bill on the subject was passed and sent to the lower house.

In two separate meetings, opposition members from PTI, PPP and MQM rejected the proposed privatisation of PIA, as well as the suggestion to convert it from a corporation into a public limited company.

However, treasury members supported the privatisation of the national flag carrier, saying that an organisation with Rs350 billion in liabilities could be run by the existing management no longer.

SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON PIA: “We reject the proposed privatisation of PIA and urge its management to put its affairs in order, because with such huge liabilities, no investor will be willing to buy the airline,” PTI leader Asad Umar said.

Former Privatisation Commission chairman Syed Naveed Qamar supported Mr Umar’s point of view and said: “No employee of the national flag carrier should be removed.”

“It is wrongly stated that all members of the committee have agreed to the privatisation of PIA because nothing is clear since nobody knows what the fate of the current PIA employees will be,” he added.

Mr Umar suggested that a first step towards reviving PIA would be for the government to shoulder the airline’s Rs350 billion in liabilities. In addition, he suggested, sound professionals should be inducted to run the affairs of the national flag carrier; more aircraft should be purchased to decrease losses and generate more revenue; and the government should stop giving away landing rights to foreign airlines so that PIA could run its flights to the most possible number of destinations.

An interesting aspect that was highlighted in the meeting was the financial package received by PIA Chief Legal Adviser Waseem Saleemi. Answering a question raised by IT Minister Anusha Rehman, a PIA representative said that he was receiving $18,000 and was appointed by the current government in 2013.

The meeting was told that PIA’s ratio of employees per aircraft was one of the highest in the world. As per the data presented in the meeting, PIA had 389 employees per aircraft, while the ratio for some other airlines was: Qatar Airlines 229, Air India 152, Air France 296, Emirates 232 and KLM 282.

It was also revealed that two PIA-owned hotels worth $700 million had generated almost no revenue for around 20 years.

The meeting was told that under the plan to convert PIA from a corporation into a public limited company, core operations and non-core operations of the national flag carrier would be separated, with the government retaining the debt-ridden, non-core business and employees.

To this, opposition members said that investors would only be interested in buying the core operations and the non-core operations, where the majority of employees work, will remain redundant and become a liability for the government.

Zahid Hamid, chairman of the special committee, said their task was completed and the bill would now be sent to the National Assembly standing committee, which met soon after the conclusion of the special committee meeting at the same venue.

Here, the bill was passed and sent to the lower house for passage. PTI MNA Nafeesa Khattak walked out of the meeting, saying she would not become part of any decision regarding the privatisation of PIA. She left the venue when committee chairman Rana Muhammad Hayat Khan started voting on the proposed bill.

PPP leader Dr Mehreen Razzaq Bhutto said the committee wanted to pass the bill in haste. “If you are in such a hurry [to sell it], you should put PIA on OLX (an online auction house).”

MQM leaders Syed Ali Raza Abedi and Rehan Hashmi wondered that if PIA was improving as the management claimed why did it have to be privatised.

PROPOSED BILL: Under the bill, Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) will be converted into a public limited company as Pakistan International Airlines Company Limited (PIACL).

PIACL will get all the assets, liabilities, duties and obligations of PIAC. Similarly, PIACL would be entitled to the benefit of all notifications, licences, permissions, sanctions, authorisations, concessions, decrees, international air service authorisations, agreements, orders and benefits issued or granted in favour of PIAC.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2016