After two consecutive days of walkouts by the opposition, the government agreed on Wednesday to set up a bipartisan and bicameral parliamentary committee to decide the fate of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
In a closed-door briefing, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tried to impress the heads of opposition parties with the government’s plans to reform the organisational structure of the national flag carrier.
However, the opposition, sticking to its guns, sought to start afresh a dialogue to bring radical changes to PIA operations, notwithstanding the ordinance that the government had promulgated over the weekend to turn the airline into a corporate entity. Before coming to the house, Senator Dar gave a detailed briefing to opposition leaders in the National Assembly chamber. But when Syed Khursheed Shah asked him to put on the record everything he had agreed to in their closed-door meeting, the latter smartly tried to incorporate into his speech the salient features of an ordinance issued on the matter.
The minister said the proposed committee would see whether the administrative changes planned under the ordinance were beneficial for the PIA. Moreover, Senator Dar added, the committee would also give its opinion on whether selling 26 per cent of PIA shares actually meant selling it, and whether the ordinance would have any major impact on the job security of its employees. Sensing that Senator Dar was playing with words, PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah, Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rashid and MQM’s Iqbal Mohammad Ali Khan objected to what finance minister said regarding the private meeting. “This is absolutely not what we had agreed during the meeting,” they said, one after the other. Taking the lead, Mr Qureshi said the only agreement the opposition had reached with the government was regarding the formation of the parliamentary committee, which, after hearing from all stakeholders, including the employees’ joint action committee, would decide on the proposed reforms in PIA.
“Nobody sitting in the house is against improvement in the operations of PIA, which has unfortunately only shown losses for many years. But we are against its privatisation,” he said. In his remarks, the MQM leader said that the country was still reeling from the improper privatisation of PTCL, because neither was the agreed amount paid in full nor the service security of its employees ensured. “The rest is history,” he said.