Aurangzeb expects PIA privatisation by end of June

Published April 22, 2024
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb’s interaction with Pakistani media at the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C., United States. — PID
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb’s interaction with Pakistani media at the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C., United States. — PID

• Says bids for flag carrier to come in two to three weeks
• Islamabad airport will be next, followed by Karachi, Lahore

WASHINGTON: Finance Minister Muhammad Aurang­zeb has stated that the process of privatising PIA will be finalised by the end of June or early July, with Islamabad airport potentially following suit shortly after.

“The government has no business being in business,” the minister declared at a Saturday afternoon news briefing, explaining the government’s plan to divest from state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“We expect the bids for PIA to come in the next two to three weeks, and by the end of June or early July, we can move it to the investors,” he said. “The Islamabad airport would be the next,” he added, “followed by the airports in Karachi and Lahore.”

Mr Aurangzeb did not respond when asked if Pakistan was also selling its skies to the bidders.

Airlines pay overflight fees to the governments of each country they fly over on their routes. This covers the use of air traffic control and other navigation services.

The minister did not explain if the government would retain some shares in PIA after privatisation or sell all its shares.

Mr Aurangzeb concluded his visit to Washington on Sunday with a busy week of 62 meetings — explaining decisions, making pledges, and seeking understanding with multilateral and bilateral donors.

The finance minister and his team were in Washington this week to attend the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. They also conducted a series of bilateral meetings with visiting finance ministers, heads of financial institutions, and senior US officials.

His meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu drew significant attention in Pakistan, as former prime minister Imran Khan accuses Mr Lu of toppling his government. When asked about this particular meeting, Mr Aurangzeb, however, pointed out that visitors do not determine whom they meet; rather, it is the hosts who decide.

At his news conference at the Pakistan Embassy, Mr Aurangzeb reiterated his position that Pakistan did not need new prescriptions to fix its economy, stating, “We need to implement the plans we make.”

He highlighted three main planks of his economic strategy: expanding the tax net, implementing energy reforms, and privatising the SOEs.

The government, he said, had prepared short, medium, and long-term strategies for expanding the tax net.

“It’s quite clear that there’s a gap between policies and implementation,” remarked Mr Aurangzeb when asked why Pakistan has failed to resolve this long-standing issue.

“For instance, litigation in the tribunals, manned by the FBR and the law ministry, took forever,” he added.

“We have asked them to make decisions in the next three or four months, even if it goes against us,” he said. “We have also shortlisted consultants for end-to-end digitalisation, which would definitely improve tax collection.”

He said the government was also expediting the process for identifying people who lived beyond their means, and they would soon be brought under the tax net.

He stressed that providing energy — petrol, gas, electricity — to both domestic and commercial consumers was necessary for uplifting the economy. “If we cannot get this right, we cannot increase our exports,” he said.

Mr Aurangzeb said the government was already taking steps to stop leakages and theft of electricity and to move distribution into the private sector. “The direction is very clear,” he declared.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2024

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