The saga of privatisation of the national carrier PIA has finally come to a logical conclusion for now, as the Senate adopted a landmark resolution to disapprove the controversial PIA ordinance. After much discord from the Senate and PIA employees who initiated strikes that led to near violent situations, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had recently claimed that the government had no plans to privatise PIA and was only seeking a strategic partner for it. Employees remained wary of this promise, and the fear of losing their job has wrecked havoc with any potential solutions.

The constitutional resolution Article 89 (2), blocking the government’s last minute move, has not been used often by the Senate, and has brought much embarrassment to the government who had their heart set on privatising the carrier that has caused huge losses to the national exchequer. It had also given a fresh commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a mere five months ago, promising it will sell the national carrier to a strategic investor by March 2016. The timelines to sell a minimum 26% of PIA shares were discussed during the eighth review of the $6.6-billion Pak-IMF programme, which was opposed to strongly within the ranks of the PIA, creating further dissent. Every sitting government, be it the PPP in the past or the PML-N now, has tried to wash its hands off the carrier instead of bringing about real changes to improve operations. Now that privatisation is out of the question, it is up to the government to pull up the carrier. It cannot shirk its responsibilities anymore.

It is obvious that politicians do not want the national carrier to become independent, or a viable/profitable organisation. The PIA is a burden on the country’s resources and though we would all like it to be state run as a service and as a source of pride, it is inefficient and unsustainable, monetarily speaking. The state is not a substitute for free market competition. It was unfortunate that jobs would be lost due to privatisation- but it was essential to bring down the bloated costs. Now business will continue as usual.

The ultimate loser is the common man for whom air travel is already becoming unaffordable. If the PIA was privatised, even if ticket costs were not reduced, maybe service standards would have become more competitive. This is not something the senators seem to have thought about. How many of them have to pay for tickets from their own pockets? Or sit in economy class? Or stand in long check-in and security queues? For now the subsidised giant does not have to worry about being competitive and bring down costs as everything is paid for by the state.