Barbs fly in Senate as PSM sell-off controversy refuses to die

Updated 09 Jun 2020

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Opposition terms disinvestment unconstitutional; govt blames past rulers for crisis. — APP/File
Opposition terms disinvestment unconstitutional; govt blames past rulers for crisis. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Senators on Monday traded barbs in the upper house of parliament as controversy over the government plan for disinvestment of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) refused to die.

While the opposition claimed that there appeared to be a conflict of interest in the proposed privitisation of the PSM, the government blamed past rulers for making huge inductions into the mills.

Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) warned that the PSM privitisation would be unconstitutional.

He said such decisions could only be taken by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet was not an appropriate forum for deciding to fire 9,350 PSM employees.

He said that the government was taking shelter under an order of the Supreme Court although the apex court did not directly say anything about the PSM sell-off.

Opposition terms disinvestment unconstitutional; govt blames past rulers for crisis

The PPP leader said the policies related to the PSM should be made by the CCI and not the cabinet because it was not authorised under the law to make decisions about the fate of state-owned companies.

He claimed that it was a matter of conflict of interest as a minister and an adviser were in the steel business.

Raising nine questions linked to the fate of PSM and lack of transparency in the whole process, Mr Rabbani sought to know the exact status of the steel mills.

He said the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation had removed the mill from the active list of privatisation, but a minister said in January this year that it was on the list of the companies to be disinvested.

The PPP senator said Hubco, Ayesha Steel, ISL and Altawarqi, all part of the earlier consortium whose deal was set aside by the apex court, had been associated again with the steel mills. “If this is not a conflict of interest, then what is.”

He said why did Hubco sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement with the PSM on November 23, 2018. Was this agreement placed before the PSM Board of Directors? What are the details of the consultative agreement, signed between Hubco, its consortium and the Steel Mills?”

He claimed that PPRA rules had not been followed while awarding the consultancy agreement to the said consortium.

Mr Rabbani wanted to know if Hubco and its consortium were awarded a contract for renovation and restoration of the PSM. He claimed that those who wanted to purchase the mills were demanding that the liabilities of this unit should be cleared first.

He asked the government to explain that why 9,350 employees of the mills were being retrenched and its security department had been disabled and a private firm had been awarded the contract for Rs7.2 million per month.

Information Minister Syed Shibli Faraz assured the house that the issue of conflict of interest would be taken care of while making a decision about the PSM.

Mohsin Aziz of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said that the previous governments of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PPP and Muttahida Quami Movement were responsible for the PSM’s closure.

He said ghost employees were appointed in the PSM during 1990s and at one time the number of employees had swollen to 25,000.

He said during the regime of retired General Pervez Musharraf the mills efficiency reached 96 per cent.

Mr Aziz said the efficiency went down to 14pc in 2008 after the PPP government made contract employees permanent before promoting them.

He said the PSM was shut down in 2015 when the PML-N government deprived it of gas utility. “During the past five years, Rs35 billion have been paid to employees as salaries without doing any duty.”

The PTI lawmaker informed the house that an amount of Rs170 billion was needed to revive the mills. He said that according a technical assessment conducted recently, only 1,000 employees were needed to run the mills.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman while speaking in the House about coronavirus said there was a huge difference between the ground realities and the government’s claims.

She said people were dying because of the irresponsible behaviour shown by the federal government and regretted that the prime minister was still talking about how he is against a lockdown. “This is the height of stubbornness and insensitivity,” she remarked.

The house unanimously passed a resolution seeking issuance of prohibited bore arms licenses to all parliamentarians and grade-20 and above government officers.

The Senate passed maintenance and welfare of old parents’ bill, criminal laws amendment bill, companies act amendment bill and the Islamabad pure food authority bill.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020