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Fleeting moments

October 14, 2019

The newsmakers


October 14, 2019

File photo

Many public-sector organisations vie to remain in the news but some come out clear winners for their own reasons. The Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan International Airlines don’t allow any other organisation come near them in loss-making. Even between them runs a tough competition for monopoly in this one area.

We frequently hear the news of their privatisation, especially after every change of government, but somehow both survive in the end. And the quick-fix remedy resorted to is replacement of the old top hierarchy with a new one. PIA has seen such superficial changes over the years.

More: PM to offer PSM to China

At present, however, the PSM is under the telescopic focus as it has remained out of production since 2015 but its employees were paid Rs380 million in salaries each month. How to get rid of the loss-making albatross when the nation faces such a tight economic situation? One of the proposals is to hand it over to our Chinese friends. Given the chance, the Chinese could use their magic touch to turn the loss-making white elephant into a profitable organisation. ‘Given the chance’ is the key.

It’s not the first time that the PSM is being considered for privatisation. Efforts to privatise it have gone on since 2006 if not earlier but the entity was found too resilient to change hands. Every time the fate of the two loss-makers – PIA and PSM – was to be decided, the government at the time was confronted with two options. First, privatise both entities and save further waste of public taxes on keeping them afloat year after year. Second, carry out ‘comprehensive restructuring’ of both the organisations.

Every government was somehow compelled to follow the second option under the immense pressure and influence of interest groups, which cleverly termed the loss-makers as strategic assets and thus saved them from privatisation.

As the government presently considers to cut the losses of the PSM and sell it off to a foreign investor, suggestions start pouring in about how to improve its working instead of privatising it. The first suggestion always is to retrench extra labour and executives; appoint honest people in the purchase and marketing departments; follow a stringent merit policy when hiring work force; and employ professionals at the higher management level.

It’s the brazen disregard of these very conditions which is precisely the malady that afflicts both national entities – PSM and PIA. Were these measures taken at every stage, both organisations would never have reached the sorry state they’re in. Overstaffing, cronyism, nepotism and pilferage are the incurable diseases these public-sector organisations suffer from.

The PSM and its competitor in loss, PIA, take turns in making it to the news. In 1955, PIA took over the Orient Airlines that only had 13 planes at the time. The population of this wing of the then united Pakistan was about 35 million. Sixty-four years later, PIA operates about 30 planes when our population has hit the 217 million mark.

Of course, during six decades the airline had its years of glory when Air Marshals Nur Khan and Asghar Khan were at its helm and merit alone was the policy followed to run the airline. In the ensuing years, the airline has only seen its decline. Lately, the time-tested strategy of ‘comprehensive restructuring’ has been put into practice once again and top management replaced by a new one.

While everyone seems critical of the government policy of retaining the loss-making organisations instead of parting with them, not many appreciate the human factor involved in it. For instance, if PIA and PSM are privatised, the first axe shall fall on their top managements.

What will the top executives, mostly re-employed in lucrative jobs with unmatched perks and privileges, do at home other than reading newspapers or bickering with their spouses? It’s hardly the idea of good lifestyle at the fag-end of their career. Hence, no privatisation, please.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]