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PIA’s core business to be sold off by April 15: privatisation minister – Pakistan

The government is committed to finalising the process of privatisation of loss-making Pakistan International Airlines‘ (PIA) core business before April 15, Minister for Privatisation Daniyal Aziz said on Monday.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister emphasised that the government plans to sell only the core business relating to management and flight operations of the national flag carrier, whereas the rest of the business would remain in the government’s custody.

The government is also planning to establish another company under which all the fixed assets of PIA would be managed, he said.

Aziz claimed that during the privatisation process, all legal rights and monetary benefits of PIA employees will be “fully protected”.

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The minister said according to the PIAC Conversion Act, 2016, that was adopted unanimously by the parliament, the government was bound to complete the privatisation process by April 15 this year.

He said PIA has been incurring losses for decades and is a huge burden on the national kitty, therefore the agenda of divesting the national airlines had always been a top priority of every government.

The total losses incurred by the airlines by March, 2017 stood at a whopping Rs325 billion, Aziz revealed.

He said he would closely monitor the privatisation exercise and ensure complete transparency in the process in the larger interest of the country.

Claiming that the sell-off will be highly beneficial for the country and the people, the minister said the privatisation will not only help overcome huge losses to the national exchequer but travellers will enjoy more competitive rates for flights with “state-of-the-art international facilities”.

Due to loss-making State-Owned Entities (SOEs), the country was facing a huge loss of over Rs600bn annually for the last three decades, Aziz said. “Had this amount been spent in the development sectors at the grass-root level, [Pakistan] would be competing with developed countries like Singapore,” he added.

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“We are planning to make Pakistan an ‘Asian tiger’, however, in the presence of such bleeding SOEs, the country’s economic growth can not be sustained for a long time and a huge chunk of resource has to be utilised to cover losses of such entities.”

When asked how soon a transaction to acquire PIA could take place, Aziz told Reuters news agency: “Tomorrow morning. If you have the money, come and buy it.”

Privatisation reinitiated

At its November 2, 2017 meeting, the Privatisation Commission headed by Daniyal Aziz had decided to “reinitiate” the process of privatising PIA — a commitment made by the PML-N government with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when it secured a $6.2bn bailout.

A mammoth organisation buried under nearly Rs300 billion of debt, PIA had been spared privatisation in 2016 after it was converted into a public limited company (PIACL) by a joint session of parliament.

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The law converting PIA into a public limited company was called the PIAC Conversion Act, 2016, and included a bar on the federal government trying to transfer ownership of the entity. What could be sold was the management of the airline; ownership would always stay with the government as they would retain a majority share with 51 per cent.

The Privatisation Commission is now seeking a reversal of this rule because it would pave the way for the government to sell ownership, and not just management, of the airline.

Both Emirates and Etihad, two of the largest Gulf carriers, had shown interest in buying PIA before the government’s clumsy handling of the privatisation effort collapsed in 2016, The Express Tribune reported on Sunday, citing an unnamed official privy to privatisation developments.

PPP opposes move

Meanwhile, the opposition in the National Assembly rejected the government plan to sell-off PIA’s core business, holding the ruling PML-N responsible for the national flag carrier’s sorry state of affairs.

Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah in a statement said the government’s privatisation plan is a cause of concern for not just PIA employees but the general public as well. He alleged that the government had failed to do anything for PIA’s betterment in the last four-and-a-half years and “now wants to put the burden of its failures on PIA employees by privatising the airlines”.

“The government itself is responsible for PIA’s losses as it imposed inefficient and corrupt top management on [the airlines],” he said.

Shah said the PPP, the party he belongs to, will forcefully raise the issue of PIA’s sell-off inside and outside the National Assembly.

“We stand with PIA employees against government steps that are inimical to workers’ interests.”

PSM privatisation ‘intact’

At the press conference, Aziz said the process to privatise the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) is also intact as the entity’s operations have been shut for the last three-and-a-half years and the government had to pay billions of rupees on account of salaries and pensions.

He said after assuming the charge of the privatisation ministry, he had helped release four months of salaries to PSM employees. However, he said this arrangement could not continue for long and the mills had to be privatised at one point.

He said due to PSM’s closure, the government had to foot a huge import bill as massive quantities of steel was being imported to complete projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The minister said the privatisation process would be a “blessing in disguise” for the country and its people as it will bring with it increased investment and employment opportunities.

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