Government to sell PIA’s minority share of 49pc by April 15

Senate committee witnessed heated debate over privatisation of PIA

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ISLAMABAD: While the opposition parties are concerned about the mode of government in privatisation of Pakistan International Airline (PIA) just ahead of few months before completion of its term, the Privatisation Ministry has reiterated its stance of privatising the airline by selling its 49 per cent share besides separating core and non-core business of the national flag carrier.

Privatisation Minister Daniyal Aziz, during a meeting of Senate Standing Committee on Privatisation, said that the air transport business of PIA will be separated from other business activities by April 15, in first phase of privatisation.

However, the members of the committee especially from opposition parties criticised the government opting for privatisation just before the elections. However, after a heated debate in the meeting, the ministry assured that the management of PIA will remain with the government while minority share of 49 per cent will be sold by April 15 as stipulated under the PIAC Conversion Act of 2016 approved by the parliament.

Briefing the standing committee on government’s plan to proceed with the transaction of PIA, Daniyal Aziz said that the government intends to separate the transport business from the assets of the airline and the entity will still be owned by the State.

The ministry assured that this is a totally different transaction wherein the majority of shares along with the management control which is the key element of any organisation, will remain with the State.

The transport model has been approved by the recent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation separating air transport business from non-air transport business.  Various assets and liabilities that are not part of air transport business will be shifted to a new company yet to be named.

While referring to the management accounts and audit accounts, Daniyal Aziz said that by separating the transport business, investment will be restored along with share value, which is expected to surge after privatisation.

Speaking about the current losses of PIA, he said that the money is not being drained from PIA rather from the national exchequer, he added, saying this amount could be diverted to other public welfare projects in the country.

The privatisation minister said that privatisation of any organisation takes a long time and it has taken the last thirty months to finalise PIA’s privatisation. He further added that financial advisers have prepared reports on various assets and liabilities that are not part of the air transport business.

The standing committee headed by PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz expressed its annoyance over the absence of Prime Minister’s Adviser on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Khan Abbasi from the meeting.  The committee demanded a clarification from Sardar Abbasi regarding his statement on the floor of the house that the government has no plans to privatise PIA.

Responding on the issue, Daniyal Aziz said that he himself took the reign of privatisation in September while Sardar Mehtab Abbasi also took charge as the advisor on aviation. At the next meeting of the standing committee, Sardar Mehtab is expected to explain his statement made in the Senate.

At one stage, after heated debate, Senator Saleem Mandviwala staged walk-out of the committee meeting, but returned to the meeting later.

Senator Sherry Rehman put numerous questions on the privatisation of PIA and the aviation policy of the government.  She questioned the minister as to who is running the affairs of PIA these days while criticising the role of former adviser Shujaat Azeem. She said that the aviation policy of the government has lost a great deal of PIA business with closing down of international routes which under the open sky policy have gone to other airlines. Stating that Pakistan wants to see foreign airlines land at Pakistani airports, why is PIA going down while 40 per cent traffic has gone up?, she questioned.

Senator Rehman said lots of overseas Pakistanis have expressed their deep concern over the reported selling of PIA, and want the national flag carrier to continue its operations.

The issue of the privatisation of PIA also echoed in the national assembly on Tuesday, where Privatisation Minister stated that the government was bound to complete the privatisation process of PIA under the PIAC Conversion Act 2016. Replying to a ‘Calling Attention Notice’ moved by Syed Naveed Qamar and others, Aziz explained that the government will retain 51 per cent shares of PIA along with the management control.

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