ISLAMABAD, Oct 17: President Asif Ali Zardari presided over a high-level meeting here on Monday to discuss the decay of the railways and urged the government to refer the issue to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) so that the federal and provincial governments could take remedial measures.
According to president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar, he advised the government to release funds within a week for payment of salary and pension of railway employees.
“The meeting was convened specially to examine proposals for salvaging Pakistan Railways with the help of the private sector from the abyss into which it has fallen. Entrepreneurs were also invited to the meeting to discuss a public-private partnership model for revamping the railways,” the spokesman said.
The president advised the government to arrange a loan of Rs6 billion for locomotive repairs and purchase. The loan will not be used for any other purpose.
He issued the directive when Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour pointed out that because of non-availability of locomotives the freight service had been suspended and the revenue from this sector had come down from Rs9 billion a year to almost zero.
A meeting of private and public sectors’ representatives would be convened soon to firm up proposals for private sector’s participation in one month for revamping and restructuring the department and turn it into a profitable venture.
The chairmen of the Arif Habib and AKD Groups of Companies attended the meeting on special invitation to give opinion on the role the private sector could play in turning around the railways.
President Zardari said the railways needed to re-orient itself to introduce a corporate culture and undertake comprehensive administrative, financial and human resource reforms.
He said injection of more funds by the government alone and that too when the country’s economy was under severe stress was not a permanent solution.
“Regional linkages of Pakistan Railways to China through Khunjrab, to Afghanistan through Peshawar and Chaman and to Iran through Taftan are of immense importance from the connectivity point of view and from the socio-economic perspective,” the president said.
Briefing the meeting, Mr Bilour, Railways Secretary Javed Iqbal and General Manager Saeed Akhtar said consistent lack of investment had adversely affected the service. Factors like rising salary, pension and fuel prices constrained the organisation’s allocations for repair and maintenance, they said.
The minister said allocation for the service had dropped from 60 per cent of the transport sector in the 1950s to 20 per cent in 1998-2005.