WEB DESK: A special parliamentary committee established to resolve all contentious issues on the Pakistan International Airlines (conversion) Bill has been successful with the government agreeing to neither using the proposed law to privatise PIA in future nor to offload more than 49 percent of the shares thereby committing to keeping management control with the federal government.
The government’s decision to take members of the opposition on board, particularly those opposed to the bill, notably Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, even though it had an overall majority in the two houses of parliament to have passed the bill on 22nd March, when it was first presented in a joint sitting, must be commended. Ishaq Dar, the federal Finance Minister, must be credited for the motion that was adopted by the House to constitute a 10-member committee representing all the major political parties charged with the responsibility of reaching an agreement by 7th March – a deadline that has been met paving the way for the passage of the bill on 11th March.
It is also relevant to note that the PML-N’s four members in the special committee included Senator Mushahidullah Khan and three federal ministers namely Zahid Hamid, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khurram Dastgir Khan who apparently did not have the mandate to agree to proposals by the opposition and Ishaq Dar had to intercede before the amendments to the bill were agreed by the government. Perhaps one lesson learned by the government must be to empower those selected to negotiate on its behalf so that the need for the finance minister to use his valuable time to resolve such issues may no longer be necessary.
However, the demand by the PPP and the PTI for the government to retain management control is inexplicable given the range of appointments at key posts in state-owned entities during the past nearly three years that the PML-N has been in government. The absence of meritocracy accounting for the failure of the government to improve governance. The Supreme Court’s verdict in the Khwaja Asif case during the caretaker set up in 2013 directed that a three-member committee constituting men of integrity be set up who would then shortlist and select the most deserving candidates. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did set up such a committee with men of integrity yet his administration ignored the selections made by the committee who then resigned.
Thus one would be compelled to conclude that if the management remains with the federal government then PIA is hardly likely to see a reversal in its fortunes unless the government makes appointments on merit and merit alone in the management and board of directors of the corporation. The government’s objective in offloading shares is no doubt to generate revenue to shore up the finances of the ailing airline; however, the critical question is at what price per share would the government be able to attract buyers in the stock market given its performance with the Sharif administration-appointed management continuing in the job?
In this context, it is relevant to note that Dar reportedly successfully persuaded the special committee members to agree to a stipulation that “the management control of the airline and its subsidiaries will remain with the Board of Directors which shall have representation in proportion to the shareholders”. Would this addition pave the way for a strategic investor purchasing the bulk of the shares at a very low price, given the airline’s existing financial problems, get sufficient members on the board and appoint someone of their choice as the chief executive of PIA?
To conclude, it is unfortunate that members of the opposition failed to bring forth improvements in the PIA conversion bill and instead may have diluted it sufficiently to make their own suggestions null and void.
Source: Business Recorder