The fakeness of it all

Updated 16 Jul 2020

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

SO now we have a new story regarding the ‘fake pilot licences’ saga. Since the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been inundated with queries from its counterparts around the world, as well as foreign airlines that employ Pakistani pilots, about the credentials it has been issuing — whether pilots licences or airworthiness certifications for aircraft — it has taken on a new line altogether.

Oman’s civil aviation authority sent a letter on July 2 asking about certifications being issued by the CAA. In its reply, the CAA said: “It is important to clarify that all Pilot Licenses issued by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) are genuine and validly issued. None of the Pilot Licenses are fake, rather that matter has been misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media.”

I would like to know what exactly this means. The aviation minister himself used the word ‘fake’ on three occasions at least, twice in English and once in Urdu, in his parliament address. Not only that, he also said that many of these pilots were inducted on political pressure, and had ‘fake licences’ made for them due to this political pressure. Everybody is welcome to look up that speech. This discussion about the ‘fake licences’ occurs shortly after the 35-minute mark, where he also adds that there has been an ongoing inquiry into pilots licences since February 2019, and that is where many of these ‘fake licences’ have been unearthed.

Two days later, he held a press conference in which he repeated the allegation and gave a detailed justification for why it was necessary for him to make the disclosure about the pilots who have ‘fake licences’ (his words, not mine), saying sometimes chemotherapy is necessary to cure an illness.

How is the CAA blaming the media for the fact that its counterparts around the world are demanding answers from it?

So how is the CAA today blaming the media for the fact that its counterparts around the world are demanding answers from it regarding the credentials it issues? And has the minister approved this particular response sent to the Omani authorities? Because he is telling parliament, and the people directly, that the problems in Pakistan’s aviation sector are so far advanced that he has to undertake ‘chemotherapy’ to address them, while at the same time turning around to his counterparts around the world and saying “none of the pilots’ licences are fake” and the media has only “misconstrued and improperly highlighted” an issue.

I recall a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan used to make the argument that a minister should take responsibility when a crash or an accident happens in the area entrusted to him or her. Remember the examples he cited from around the world to buttress his case? And one of the reasons he gave for why a minister must step down if a crash happens on his watch was that an impartial inquiry cannot possibly happen under the minister’s own watch. The minister in question will never allow those facts to surface which might implicate his own lack of leadership and competence.

I think we have a living example of that happening before our eyes.

In the two years of the PTI government, we have had a train accident that led to the death by incineration of more than 70 people back in October 2019. Does anybody know who has been held responsible for that? Did any minister step down? We have had a plane crash in which 98 people died, and all we have is the minister blaming the pilots before the country, while his people sheepishly tell their counterparts around the world that all is well, it’s all just media hype at home.

It doesn’t end there. We have a minister who saw the circular debt double under Khan’s watch when he had angrily promised to bring it down to zero, and his only punishment was that he was transferred to petroleum instead, the portfolio that the aviation minister had just vacated. In petroleum, this same minister gave us first a petrol and diesel supply crisis, and now the beginnings of a fuel supply crisis for the power sector. Good thing the hydel turbines kicked in to save him there, because the entire country could have been going through the kind of load-shedding that the city of Karachi is seeing on account of fuel supply issues.

In his first address to the nation upon coming to office, Khan told us that his vision for reforming Pakistan begins with the FBR. A “country where only eight lakh people out of 20 crore pay their taxes will not be able to function for very long,” he said. Then he lamented how rich people don’t pay taxes in this country. “I promise you today,” he said, “first thing I want to fix is the FBR.”

This is consistent with the vision outlined in the PTI, whose chapter on economic growth also begins with the FBR. It promises “a robust tax policy, efficient tax administration structure and effective enforcement mechanism”. To do this, it promised to increase the FBR’s autonomy, and “reducing the influence of ministry of finance”.

That was then. Two years later, we have seen four different FBR chairs, meaning an average tenure of three months each. And today, we are at a point where not only is there no plan for reforming the FBR, there is no tax plan to meet the current year’s revenue target. At least none that anybody has seen, because the finance ministry is still busy negotiating that with the IMF. So much for “I will start with the FBR.” So much for “reducing the influence of the ministry of finance”.

Today, the sad fact is that the government can’t even hold its own ministers accountable, let alone bring accountability to the rest of the country. By the prime minister’s own words — ‘I will start with the FBR’ — all we can conclude is that two years down the road, the PTI government has not even begun yet.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain@gmail.com

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020