Save Pakistan, not state owned enterprises
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State owned enterprises are like Coronavirus for Pakistan’s economy, said an economist on a TV channel. He had hit the bull’s eye. It could not have been described better. And yet, to the great disbelief and indeed much dismay of us common folks, our august houses are still engaged with the ifs and buts of keeping them artificially afloat even if that means putting the mother ship at risk of sinking.
The other day we learnt of the bleeding status of Pakistan Steel Mills. And on Monday we were informed yet again of how PIA is bleeding the national economy. An annual loss of Rs72 billion and I understand it has piled up an accumulated loss of over Rs 400 billion. The airline is paying Rs24 billion annually in wages to 14500 employees, an average of 500 employees per aircraft. An airline industry record of sorts. But its present ventilator status is not new. It has been on and off it many times. It was in June 1982 that plagued by heavy losses and unbridled unionism, the then government of Gen Zia Ul Haq decided to impose Martial Law Regulation 52 in PIA and banned all unions and associations from the airline.
I was a young officer who had recently returned to Islamabad from a posting in Canada. I was asked to leave for Karachi to head PIA’s public affairs wing on deputation from the government. The Karachi Press needed to be sensitised to the inevitability of the government’s decision and I was entrusted with the challenge. Initially deputed for two years, I stayed for four and a half until recalled to join as Press Secretary to the then Prime Minister. Helped by the martial law regulation, the new management headed by a serving PAF Air Marshal of great merit turned the airline around.
Coincidentally, today too it has a serving Air Marshal at its helm. And he has done a lot of good work. But that was the 1980s and the country was under martial law. Three and a half decades later, with the country savouring the fruit of democracy as is practiced here, Pakistan’s economy is itself on the ventilator. Back in 1982, Pakistan and Zia Ul Haq were being courted by the USA, dollars were pouring in, IMF and the World Bank were outbidding to help the country. Bhutto’s hanging was ignored and a blind eye was turned to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The Saudis and the Emiratis were generously helping and Pakistani workers were leaving by the thousands for greener pastures. It is just the opposite today.
Our economy is choking under the Coronavirus. Investment, production, exports, remittances and state revenue are all down. Pakistanis overseas are returning in planeloads. Even agriculture is badly affected. The World Bank has predicted a negative growth not only this year but the next year too. We are told the loss of the state-owned enterprises has exceeded the country’s defence budget. It is over a trillion rupees.
Those who we would turn to for help are themselves looking around for it. Yet, here we are deliberating on the ifs and buts of their (state owned enterprises) status. We are playing politics with this country’s destiny. An odd silver lying here and there under PIA may look attractive but so they did even then. Today, Pakistan’s economy is haemorrhaging badly and we must offload these enterprises including PIA as of yesterday. It is they or Pakistan.
The writer is Former Federal Information Secretary.
–Courtesy Balochistan Time