Speakers, at a seminar, held here on Monday, called for an outright privatisation of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in order to reduce losses, increase jobs and improve the service quality besides ensuring effective regulation, more transparency and minimum political intervention.

“PIA has never reported a profit in the last 30 years, except for a couple of years, and its performance evaluation systems are completely absent,” Minister of State and Privatisation Commission Chairman Muhammad Zubair observed at the seminar titled, ‘PIA – Restructure, Reform or Privatise: The Way Ahead’.

Recalling the golden age of PIA, when it was one of leading airlines of the world, Zubair said that the then management enjoyed complete autonomy, which led to an excellent performance.

“Sadly, it is no more possible in a democratic set up and in the presence of an increasingly independent judiciary,” the minister said, asserting, “Reform and restructuring will not work in the presence of political interference.”

He opined that initially privatisation would bring difficulties, but would be beneficial in the long run.

“The employees should be looking for the job growth; not just job retention. If the organisation is not growing, the employees will naturally not grow,” he said.

He added that it was not fair to hold the entire nation hostage for a few thousands employees, with a liability of Rs. 300 billion.

Zubair revealed that there was not a single penny in PIA’s employees’ gratuity fund, which had forced the corporation to borrow money from banks to pay it to its employees on their retirement.

Associate Professor at PIDE Dr. Idrees Khawaja said on the occasion that it should be understood that privatisation is done for the right reasons.

“PIA should be privatised simply because the government is incapable of running it; not because it is a burden on the national exchequer. There are numerous other departments, which are a burden, but they need to be made more efficient, not privatised,” the minister underscored

He also stressed the need for a regulatory authority to minimise the potential exploitation that usually accompanies privatisation.

PRIME Institute Executive Director Ali Salman shared with the audience a few examples of privatised airlines, such as the British Airways, Air Senegal in Africa and Qantas in Australia.

He noted the PIA’s case was not very different from these airlines. “Since many of these airlines are doing quite well, it can be hoped that PIA will do the same; although there will be a phase of trial and error, and we should be ready for that,” Salman cautioned.

He informed the state-owned airlines, the world over, had faced financial difficulties, confronted political interferences, had highly unionized employees and seen delays in re-equipment, which affected the quality and ultimately resulted in poor service both on and off the ground.

The seminar was organised by Policy Research Institute of Market Economy with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.