Senate body airs reservations on privatisation bill

Published September 21, 2021
This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV/File
This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: As the Senate Standing Committee on Privatisation took up for consideration the Privatisation Commission (Amendment) Bill 2021 on Monday, several members expressed reservations over the proposed bill, saying that “bypassing the cabinet and empowering the prime minister as an individual is against norms”.

Senator Sabir Shah was of the view that the amendments under the proposed bill would result in withdrawal of collective wisdom. “If we go ahead with these amendments it would set a wrong precedent.”

The committee members received a briefing from officials of the Ministry of Privatisation on the proposed amendments to the bill.

The officials informed the committee that the proposed amendments would have no effect on the process of privatisation.

Members say bypassing cabinet and empowering prime minister is against norms

“We go to the cabinet three to four times during the whole process of privatisation. This is by no means limiting the powers of the cabinet.

“The word ‘Government’ is mentioned in the Privatisation Act 83 times. We have just decided to replace the word in 4 places, which will give power to the prime minister to make appointments in the Privatisation Board.

“As per the existing definition of ‘Government’ and the Act, we have to go to cabinet for even small tasks such as account opening. These amendments are aimed at removing these bottlenecks,” the ministry’s officials said.

Consideration of the bill was deferred by the committee members after due deliberations.

The committee was briefed in detail on privatisation of Services International Hotel, Lahore.

The secretary of the Privatisation Commission informed the committee members that privatisation of Services International Hotel is in final stages and the matter is to be laid before the cabinet for final approval. Bidding has taken place through an open auction. Two bidders submitted bids for the reserved base price of Rs1.94 billion.

The commission received one bid higher than the reserved base price, amounting to Rs1.95bn, while the other one was below the reserved price and subsequently did not qualify.

The chairman of the standing committee asked the ministry’s officials how a bid was considered successful when the minimum number of bidders was not there for auction.

The officials replied that there was no legal issue with regards to the minimum number of bidders in an open auction.

They reiterated their stance that bidding was done as per the law with complete transparency.

Senator Sabir Shah said that “it is a commercial property and we believe that reserved base price of Rs1.94 billion is very low”. The committee members were of the view that the issue needed to be probed further.

The committee chairman, Senator Shamim Afridi, directed that a letter be written to the cabinet in order to inform them about the reservations expressed by the committee members on the issue. It will be requested that a final approval for privatisation should not be given by the cabinet. The discussion on the matter was deferred and would be taken up again in the next meeting of the committee.

The committee was also briefed on privatisation of Pak-China Fertiliser Company located in Haripur (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) with regard to its present status, outstanding amount payable to the government, reason for delay in its privatisation and expected date of its functioning.

The Privatisation Commission secretary informed the committee members: “Ninety per cent shares of PCFC was sold to ‘Schon Group’ vide sale agreement dated 26 May 1992, for total consideration sale price of Rs456.84 million. Of which, 40 per cent sale price was paid by the buyer amounting to Rs182.736 million. The total outstanding sale amount till August 31, 2021, is Rs2.8 billion. There are multiple litigations going on regarding the fate of this property. The commission is currently perusing the case in the Islamabad High Court.”

Senator Fida Hussain apprised the committee members of the dismal situation on ground in Haripur of the said property, and lamented the lack of action on the part of the ministry officials regarding multiple attempts of encroachment and theft of scrap worth billions of rupees.

He expressed his discontent regarding the fate of employees who still have not received their due compensation even after 30 years.

Senator Sabir Shah also weighed in on the current status of the property and said that “it is our duty to protect public property and we will do whatever it takes to solve this issue”.

The committee chairman directed that the deputy commissioner of Haripur be summoned in the next meeting of the committee, along with complete details of the current situation on ground.

The committee also deliberated upon the idea of setting up a subcommittee in order to visit the site and take notice of the alleged mismanagement.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021

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