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ISLAMABAD: Amid strong reservations by both treasury and opposition benches over a “flawed” privatisation approach, the government on Monday informed the National Assembly that it is going to privatise around 24 state-owned entities (SOEs) in the coming years.

Responding to questions, the Minister for Privatisation Aleem Khan said the government had no option but to proceed with privatising the SOEs which are being run on losses, particularly Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and the power distribution companies.

Dr Nafeesa Shah, a lawmaker belonging to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a leading party of the ruling alliance, opposed PIA’s privatisation, saying the national flag carrier should be run under a public-private partnership.

She said PIA fell under the Federal Legislative List according to the Constitution of 1973 and should have its policy governed by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), not solely by the Cabinet.

She argued that privatising PIA, a strategic asset crucial for national defence, posed a risk if controlled by foreign entities.

In response, Aleem Khan said PIA’s accumulated losses had reached Rs830 billion, adding all the successive governments were responsible for the downfall of the national flag carrier.

“This loss was not accumulated during the tenure of a single government. It took a long period of time to reach here,” he maintained, adding, “The job of the government is to make policies and doing business is the job of the private sector”.

He highlighted that the PIA had only 18 planes, while there were 10,000 employees working in the airline, adding eight companies were participating in the privatisation of PIA, and none of them were foreigners.

Aleem said 51 per cent shares of the PIA were being given to private ownership, and insisted that no government could afford to keep releasing bailout packages for the cash-starved entities.

However, the minister copiously skipped the question raised by Dr Shah as to why the government is hesitant to take the issue to the CCI.

The minister also said the other SOEs which were going to be privatised included the PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York, First Women Bank, Zarai Taraqiati Bank Ltd (ZTBL), Utility Stores Corporation and various power distribution companies.

Responding to different questions, State Minister for Economic Affairs Ali Pervaiz Malik said that all field enforcement units had been sensitized to check the smuggling of iron and steel items.

He said that over 785,028 kilograms of steel products had been seized during the current fiscal year, adding all consignments were weighed twice in order to detect mis-declaration or under-weighment.

Energy Minister Awais Leghari said the provision of uninterrupted power supply was not possible without addressing the issue of line losses and electricity theft.

Responding to points of order, he said Pakistan could not afford a loss of Rs700 billion in the power sector and “we have to improve the performance of power distribution companies to control losses.”

He said “it is the responsibility of all of us, irrespective of political affiliation, to play our due role to control power theft.” He said the provincial governments would have to extend their cooperation in this respect.

Expressing his inability to control power theft in the country, he said “he is ready to give a detailed briefing on the power crisis in the country.”

This earned the ire of the lawmakers who said that minister should play the role of a trouble shooter in resolving the power crisis instead of showing his inability to resolve the issue.

“Stop complaining, Mr Minister! Your job is not to make complaint as you are there to find a solution to the problem […] complaining is the job of the MPs like us,” lamented Qadir Patel of PPP.

Responding to a calling attention moved by Shehla Raza and others, Minister for Water Resources Musadik Masood Malik said there was no shortage of water in the country and every province was getting its complete share of water as per the decision of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa).

He continued that Irsa was fully empowered to take decisions regarding water distribution and every province had its representation in the authority.

Regarding another question, he said that every province could divert water to link canals from its own share and not from the share of other provinces.

The absence of federal secretary for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives irked NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who summoned the “top baboo” in question to immediately turn up in the house.

“This is not acceptable. Go and tell him [secretary] to turn up immediately. I’ll make him stand up in my chamber so that this negligence on the part of senior ministry officials comes to an end,” he directed an additional secretary from the concerned ministry present in the officers’ gallery.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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