In what was termed as the ‘restructuring’ of the national flag carrier, the federal cabinet on Tuesday approved privatisation of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), more than two weeks after a related cabinet panel gave the go-ahead to privatise the loss-making airline.
The approval was granted during the cabinet’s weekly meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
According to official sources, following the cabinet’s approval the privatisation process would formally start immediately, a move that has triggered opposition from public circles and political parties, in particular the Pakistan Peoples Party.
The incumbent government would push to complete the privatisation process before the expiry of its tenure in June and the arrival of the caretaker set-up, according to insiders.
“This is an ambitious target — considering the controversies attached to the matter, the political opposition, and chances of litigation against the privatisation. It would be miraculous if we get to have the PIA privatised before our government has to wind up,” an official source in direct knowledge of the aviation affairs said on the condition of anonymity.
In an apparent bid to skip backlash, a statement issued by the PM office did not directly mention the approval of PIA’s privatisation and contained a veiled reference to a previous meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP) held on February 16 in which the government gave the go-ahead of the PIA and the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) privatisation in the name of restructuring.
The cabinet ratified the CCoP recommendations proposed in the meeting held on February 16, the statement said.
The said meeting, presided over by the PM, discussed the privatisation process of the PIA and the PSM before granting the related approval. “After a detailed presentation on the PIA and the discussion that followed, the CCoP gave the go-head to the proposal for initiating the restructuring process in the PIA,” a press release issued by the PM office had said on February 16.
“It was decided during the meeting to segregate the core and non-core functions of the organisation.”
In the same meeting, Privatisation minister Daniyal Aziz gave a detailed presentation on various issues, including financial challenges, faced by the two organisations, and the possible way forward for addressing those issues on a permanent basis.
Ban on loose cigarettes
The federal cabinet, in order to discourage cigarette smoking, approved a ban on sale of loose cigarettes by amending the Prohibition of Sale of Cigarettes to Minors Rules, 2010. The decision, officials said, aimed at preventing the sale of open cigarettes (not sealed cigarettes packets).
The PM office said the cabinet expressed satisfaction over the “power situation and resolved to provide uninterrupted power to the consumers during the upcoming summer season and Ramzan.”
During the meeting, it was emphasised to lay greater focus on addressing administrative and management issues vis-à-vis transmission, distribution and recovery of power dues, the statement said.
Power division secretary briefed the cabinet on projections of the electricity demand and supply; and the available generation capacity for catering to the power requirements during the summer season, particularly during Ramzan.
The Cabinet was informed that additional power would be added to the national grid from Tarbela-IV and Neelum-Jhelum Hydro-power projects during the upcoming months “which would further augment the existing generation capacity.” The meeting was also briefed about the current load-management plan.
Planning Commission deputy chairman Sartaj Aziz briefed the Cabinet in detail regarding measures taken to enhance the cotton production and exports from Pakistan. The Cabinet approved transfer the matters related to the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee and Cotton from the Ministry of Textile Industry to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.
The Cabinet accorded approval for signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the governments of Somalia and Pakistan for rendering NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) services to Somalia.
Approval was also granted to initiate legislation on the Geographical Indications Protection Bill, 2017. The Cabinet also approved appointment of a presiding officer, Special Court (Offences in Banks), Islamabad.