PIA not being privatised, Senate told

Published July 25, 2020
Aviation minister says PIA has been facing questions on safety standards since 2007. — APP/File
Aviation minister says PIA has been facing questions on safety standards since 2007. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Senate was informed on Friday that the national flag carrier was not on the privatisation list.

Winding up a discussion on a calling-attention notice on suspension of PIA flights in European Union countries, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the restructuring of the Pakistan International Airlines was on the cards.

He rejected the allegation that his statement on dubious licences of pilots was an effort to bring the state-owned airline to the verge of collapse to pave way for its privatisation.

He said the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) ban on PIA flights in EU countries and three cities of the UK had been imposed neither due to the PIA plane crash in Karachi nor because of his statement that some of PIA pilots possessed fake degrees. “This is an old issue as the PIA has been facing questions on safety standards since 2007.”

The minister said this was not the first time that the EASA had suspended PIA operations in EU countries. The operations of some of the PIA planes had remained banned from 2007 to 2009 on safety issues and after this, the airline was under surveillance due to safety hazards. The EASA had in 2019 given its six observations on the PIA to comply with till June 30, 2020. “Five of its observations have been addressed and the sixth one on safety standards has yet to be complied with,” he added.

Opposition assails govt over increase in medicines’ prices

The minister said the ban would remain in force for two months till the end of August, but the government was going into appeal by the end of July.

He said the issue of fake licences of PIA pilots was old before the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came to power and the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of alleged fake degrees possessed by employees of the airline in 2018. These people were recruited before 2018. He said the degrees of 17 pilots and many from technical staff, ground handlers and cabin crew had turned out to be fake during a verification exercise carried out on the directives of the apex court and over 600 employees were sacked.

The minister agreed that the examination process to issue licences to the pilots was changed from manual to computerised in 2012 and this led to use of unfair means through illegally accessing passwords. He said an inquiry board formed in 2019 had put a question mark on the credentials of 262 pilots and said their licences were dubious.

He said criminal cases would be lodged against those who issued these licences as money was involved in the matter The minister said the reports that US President Donald Trump was interested in purchasing PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel in New York were wrong. He said this was also wrong to say that the government wanted to induct PAF or Shaheen Airways pilots into the PIA after sacking its pilots.

“We will not privatise PIA rather bring reforms in it and restructure it,” he said, adding that the government wanted to bring the airline back to its days of glory.

At this, PML-N parliamentary leader in the house Mushahidullah Khan said the government was not adopting a uniform policy to sack employees who possessed fake degrees.

Earlier, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, speaking on a calling-attention notice, placed 19 questions before the house. He asked if it was correct to assume that the issue of Karachi air crash was used to cover the threat of suspension of PIA flights that was looming large due to the management of the airline.

“Is it correct that the government talks only of embarrassment but in actual fact this disclosure has brought PIA to a total collapse? Is it correct that the disclosure was deliberate so that PIA crashes financially and then it is privatised on an ‘as is, where is’ basis to a crony of the government?” he asked.

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi said the country faced embarrassment due to the statement of the minister on fake licences of pilots.

Drug prices

The opposition blasted the government for yet another hike in the prices of medicines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Raising the issue on a calling-attention notice, PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said that at a time when the government should have provided relief to the people, it chose to dole out favour to the pharmaceutical industry.

She said the PTI government had allowed pharmaceutical companies to increase prices of medicines by up to 10 per cent.

She said increasing prices of medicines had become a norm for the government.

Taking notice of the health minister’s absence, she said: “How is it fair that this decision comes in the middle of a national and global health crisis when people are already suffering? It is unethical and immoral to increase medicine prices during the pandemic. Even the heartland of capitalism, the US, has not done this. Countries all over the world are providing relief to their citizens but instead of doing this, our government is increasing the prices of medicines and putting the lives of citizens at risk.”

Ms Rehman said: “Unlike their false promises of transparency and merit, arbitrary powers have been used to increase the prices. We [the previous PPP government] had frozen the prices for 13 years but that has been set aside. Health emergencies are terrible traumas and this government has clearly given the message that they do not care about the hardships people are facing.”

Mushahidullah Khan said the PTI government continued to increase the prices of all essential items contrary to the pre-poll promises it had made.

He said the previous health minister, according to then adviser to the prime minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, had been removed on corruption charges. He said the appointment of the man as central secretary general of the PTI raised serious questions.

In response, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said no government increased drug prices at its free will. He said there were some compulsions as prices were market driven.

He also said that prices of 360 generic medicines had been decreased.

In reply to a question asked by Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala, who was chairing the session, he was assured that the government would try to review the hike in prices of drugs. On the opposition’s demand, the chair referred the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020

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