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Thursday December 02, 2021

Govt in the dock in Senate on PIA flights ban

July 25, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan Friday rejected the opposition’s criticism that the government was using the PIA plane crash to cover up weaknesses of PIA about adoption of international safety standards.

Replying to a call attention notice on suspension of flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the EU countries, the minister turned down the opposition’s allegations that the recent incident of PIA plane crash in Karachi was being used as a cover-up, as the airline was already facing a ban from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

The minister put aside the charge that his statement on fake licenses of pilots was an effort to bring the state-owned airline to the verge of collapse to pave way for its privatization at throwaway prices.

He maintained that neither the EASA ban on PIA flights in the EU countries and three cities of the UK had been imposed due to plane crash incident nor because of his statement that some of the PIA pilot possess fake degrees and noted that this was an old issue as the PIA had been facing questions on safety standards since 2007.

He emphasized that this was not the first time that EASA had suspended operations of the airline in the EU countries. “The operations of some of the PIA planes had remained banned from 2007 to 2009 on safety issues and after this, the airline was under surveillance due to safety hazards. EASA in 2019 had given its six observations on PIA to comply with these until June 30, 2020. This is true that five of its observations were addressed and the sixth one on safety standards was not complied with,” he contended.

The ban, he said, would remain in force for two months until the end of August. However, the government was going into appeal by the end of July and added, “We hope that flights will resume before the end of this year as we are doing our best efforts”.

He noted that fake licenses of PIA pilots was an old issue before the PTI came into power and the Supreme Court had taken a suo motu notice of alleged fake degree of employees of the airline in 2018. These people had been recruited before 2018.

He continued that the degrees of as many 17 pilots besides many people from technical staff, ground handlers and cabin crew had turned out to be fake during a verification exercise carried out on the directions of apex court and over 600 employees were sacked.

However, he agreed that the examination process to give licenses to pilots had been changed and computerized in 2012, which led to the use of unfair means through accessing passwords illegally.

He said an inquiry board formed in 2019 had put a question mark on the credentials of 262 pilots and their licenses were dubious or suspected. He clarified that licenses of those pilots would be called as fake who used unfair means to get the same.

He explained that those people who issued these licenses would be proceeded with criminal cases as money was involved in the matter while on the issue Pakistani pilots working abroad were facing difficulties due to his statement. He said the government had cleared 166 such pilots out of a total of 174 working in 10 countries.

“We had received verification requests of credentials of such pilots from these countries,” he said and added that there was a question mark on the credentials of the remaining. He said some reports were wrong that US President Donald Trump was interested in purchasing PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel and added that this was also wrong to say that the government wanted to induct pilots of PAF and a private airline into the PIA by sacking its own pilots.

The minister said, “We will not privatize PIA rather we will reform and restructure it and the government wants to bring back the airline to its past glory”. PML-N parliamentary leader Senator Mushahidullah Khan rose to point out that the stance of the minister and DG Civil Aviation Authority was different on the issue of fake licenses and the government itself was not clear on it.

PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, speaking on his call attention notice, placed as many 19 questions before the House and asked if it was correct to assume that the unfortunate air crash incident was used to cover the threat of suspension of PIA flights that was looming large due to the management of airline.

“Is it correct that the government talks only of embarrassment but in actual fact this disclosure has brought the PIA to a total collapse?” He also said whether the disclosure was deliberate so that PIA crashes financially and then it is privatized on “as is, where is” basis to a crony of the government.

Is it correct that there is a fear that the vacuum created by the retrenchment of pilots will be filled by those of Shaheen Air and from the Air Force? Is it correct that the issue of alleged fraudulent licenses as exposed by the minister had been contradicted by the DG (CAA) in his letter? Is this not a contradiction between the minister and the secretary of his ministry?

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi, the co-mover of the notice, said the country faced embarrassment due to the statement of minister on fake licenses of pilots. State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said in the Senate Friday that ‘we are all by nature Husainis and the incumbent government is also Husaini.

He observed this in response to the PPP parliamentary leader in the House Sherry Rehman’s assertion as to ‘what was this Yazeedi government doing in relation to what she called 200 percent hike in drug prices.

Speaking on her calling attention notice on increase in drug prices, she said, “The PTI government has allowed pharmaceutical companies to increase prices of medicines up to 10%. Pharmaceutical companies have increased the prices of their lifesaving drugs by up to 7% and other drugs by up to 10% on recommendation and approval of the government and its policy board”. Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla chaired the sitting.

She regretted that the increasing prices of medicines had become a norm for this government, as in 2019, the government had allowed the pharmaceutical companies to increase the prices of 45,000 medicines up to 15%. Moreover, the prices of 463 hardship medicines were increased by 200%, which was the highest increase in the last 40 years.

“The present drug-pricing policy was developed on the orders of the apex court, which was hearing several hardship cases. Now the amendment is likely to open floodgates for litigation. This decision has been taken without any planning and logic. It was done to please the pharmaceutical companies at the cost of peoples’ lives,” she alleged.

Sherry said the PMDC had been suspended to reward ‘your cronies and relatives’. The entire private sector and regulatory authority has been affected. DRAP has also become a puppet in their hands. The PTI government is appeasing the mafias by increasing the prices of essential products’.

“How is it fair that this decision comes in the middle of a national and global health crisis when people are already suffering and struggling? It is unethical and immoral to increase medicine prices during the COVID-19 pandemic…,” she said while highlighting the plight of the people.

Senator Sherry contended that unlike their false promises of transparency and merit, arbitrary powers had been used to increase the prices. “We had frozen the prices for 13 years but all that has been set aside. Health emergencies are terrible traumas and this government has clearly given the message that they do not care about the hardships people are facing. In this moment of crisis, where our health system is collapsing, the government must be facilitating the local masses. But instead, it is burdening the people through such acts,” she noted.

JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad, who also had submitted a calling attention notice on the subject, claimed that drug prices had been increased six times during the last two years and the total increase was 200% and this was contrary to the prime minister’s announcement to reduce drug prices and to take on the drug mafia.

He pointed out that the pharma industry had annual growth of 15 percent and local pharma companies were earning much more than the multinational companies. He also noted that the overall size of pharma industry in 2013 was dollars 4 billion and it stood at dollars 8 billion in 2019.

Minister Ali Muhammad appreciated the raising of public issues in the Parliament and said it enabled a government to go for correct steps. However, he did not agree with the opposition senators that there had been 200% increase in the rates of drugs. However, he agreed that like any government, this government was also not in favour of increasing drug rates, but certain reasons and factors were behind this trend.

The minister admitted that seven percent increase in prices of essential medicines and 10 percent in non-essentials medicines had been approved but he added it would come into force after more than two months. He said no government wanted to increase prices of medicines with its free will.

He said the government wanted to review hike in prices but there were some compulsions as prices were market-driven. The minister pointed out the drug policy that was in force had been introduced in 2018 when the PML-N was in power. He also said that prices of 360 generic medicines had been decreased.

The minister said that drug prices had been reduced as well in order to provide relief to public. He said the government was in the process of reforming the health sector, which included pharma industry as well to the benefit of masses.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the moving of leading Kashmiri freedom fighter and Chairperson Dukhtaran-e-Millat Aasiya Andrabi to Tihar Jail in New Delhi. The resolution, moved by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed of PML-N, condemned the Indian government’s decision to move her to an isolation ward of notorious jail. “The House sees this action of Modi regime against an innocent person, whose only crime is raising her voice for freedom of Occupied Kashmir,” the resolution says.