LAHORE - When the PPP was in power at the centre and the PML-N was sitting on opposition benches during 2008-13, the performance of all important state institutions was simply deplorable. The PIA, the Pakistan Steel Mills, the PEPCO, the Pakistan Railways and several other entities were running into huge losses, mainly because of rampant corruption, mismanagement and overstaffing.
The PML-N missed no opportunity to bitterly criticise the PPP government and hold it responsible for whatever was going on in these institutions. Important party leaders were telling people that if the PML-N returned to power, it would appoint competent professionals as heads of these institutions to turn them into profit-making entities. Revival of the economy was always the main theme of their conversations.
But in less than 100 days into its third term in power, the PML-N signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to get a loan of $6.5billion against conditionalities which many say would soon make the people forget about the tough times they had experienced during the PPP (mis)rule. They would have to fight for their survival because of the policies of the PML-N leadership.
To honour its commitments to the IMF, the federal cabinet has just approved a plan to privatise 26 per cent shares of the PIA. Similar decisions about the remaining loss-making institutions are expected to be taken in the times ahead. And the day is not far off when, situation permitting, full control of these institutions may go to the friends and front men of the rulers. Even in the previous tenure of the PML-N the control of various entities had been given to people close to the Sharifs.
Opinion is divided about the justification for the decision to privatise 26 per cent shares of the PIA. The “vultures” wanting to prey on the state institutions are praising the initiative. However, independent analysts who have no personal axe to grind are opposing the move for a variety of reasons.
The anti-privatisation elements argue that the state assets should remain with the state and the government should take necessary measures to fix their problems, for which competent professionals are available in the market.
But without making the slightest effort to set the situation right, the government’s decision to go for privatisation shows that the rulers were just waiting for an opportunity to give the control of state units to private sector. It is unbelievable that such big deals will be executed without kickbacks. If former NAB chairman Fasih Bokhari’s statement that corruption worth Rs 8 billion is committed in Pakistan every day (Rs 2,920 billion per year) is right, it will be naïve to assume that the menace vanished just with the change of government after the May 11 elections.
There is no doubt that the PIA has been going through difficult times for several years. And with the passage of time, its condition has been worsening because of the greed of those at the helm. At present, it is said it is suffering a loss of more than Rs 3.3 billion every month.
Despite such a heavy loss, the “patient” can still be saved. Many know that there is a minister in the federal cabinet who is running his own private airline – quite successfully. And if an individual can do this, why can’t the state?
The privatisation decision could have been justifiable if all efforts to cure the patient had failed. In this case the government made no efforts at all because of which there is no question of any failure.
Also, before going for decision to privatise the PIA, the government should have taken stern action against all those responsible for bleeding this erstwhile prestigious state institution white. The ministers, the secretaries, the chairmen, the managing directors and all others who, instead of fixing the problem, added to the burden of this institution should be proceeded against without delay. They should be treated like criminals and be made to return the huge salaries they had received while the airline went down and down.
A similar treatment should be given to the holders of important positions in other institutions that are facing crises.
In fact, the lack of accountability is the root cause of the overall decline in all institutions. Heads and others on important positions are appointed without any consideration for eligibility. They pay more attention to please the rulers than to the health of their institutions. They line their pockets as a result of which they grow richer and richer and the institutions under their command go down and down.
No government has ever punished bureaucrats who failed to show their capabilities as heads of various institutions. Ironically, they get their promotions on time and after they have” successfully destroyed” one institution are posted to others to play havoc with them.
The Pakistan Steel Mills, the PEPCO and the Pakistan Railways, to name a few, would not have been what they are at present if the performance of their bosses had been properly monitored and they were punished for failing to deliver.
Unless stomachs of dishonest bureaucrats and their accomplices are torn apart to recover the devoured public money, the state institutions would not work properly. Such elements should be portrayed as criminals.
The leaders of the former ruling party who played a role in the destruction of the state institutions should also be made to face the music. That they lost the election and are sitting on opposition benches today is insufficient a punishment for them.