The government is looking for out-of-the-box solutions to save the nation from the loss-making entity that is Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), and in place of a sale, a lease offered to Iranian or Chinese firms for a limited period is on the cards.

When the government started looking for a financial advisor to start work on privatisation, no one answered the advertisements within the 30-day time period in 2013. When financial advisors were finally brought on board, making the purchase of PSM seem worthwhile was no less a herculean task. Which is why it’s not as if the government has many any other options, given the fact that all attempts to privatise the former steel production powerhouse have come to naught.

Rs26 billion has been spent from the national kitty in the past two and a half years in an effort to keep PSM running. But even this inordinately large figure has not prevented its closure – PSM has not been in production mode for over a year and a half.

The present issue though, is that the rusted façade of what was once a perfectly functioning steel mill is a much harder sell than if it had fires burning in its furnaces. Mismanagement, large-scale corruption and overstaffing are only a few problems that make Pakistan Steel Mills such an unattractive acquisition for potential private investors. The closed down PSM has over 15,000 employees, and this number does not even take the daily wage earners into account. The cumulative losses of the firm stand at Rs164 billion, with an additional Rs150 billion’s worth of liabilities.

Pakistan Steels Mills was never just a steel-production facility – 15,000 employees mean that the fate of countless families is inextricably tied to the future of PSM. But that’s not all, worker unions and a biased hiring process has led to many within the ranks of employees holding the nation’s finances hostage; a PPP appointed chairman and the victory of a PPP affiliated labour organisation in the Collective Bargaining Agency (CBA) – an organisation to bargain with the management on the workers’ behalf – led to a volley of cases being lodged against the chairman for allegations of corruption. Many in the 15,000 have never worked for the mills and yet drew salaries with those that had spent years giving their life in service of the firm.

It is time to do whatever it takes to stop an entity that is rapidly draining a national financial pool that is all but dry. If that means leasing it out to international firms – which will obviously mean staff cuts, a possible sale of non-crucial assets and other cost-cutting measures – so be it.