ISLAMABAD - Former chairman Senate and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart Mian Raza Rabbani, on Monday, warned the PTI government that cabinet was not the appropriate forum to make policies related to the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) as it was the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to take such decisions.

Raising the issue of last week’s decision of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet to approve retrenchment of all the 9,350 employees of PSM, Rabbani said that the government was taking shelter of an order of Supreme Court for this purpose, though the apex court did not directly say this.

“The policies related to the PSM would be formed by the CCI and not the cabinet,” he said. He alleged that a minister and an advisor were connected with the steel business and questioned was there not an element of conflict of interest?

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani placed nine questions before the government, which, he said, showed non-transparency pertaining to the privatization of PSM.

The lawmaker questioned about the status of PSM saying that Cabinet Committee on Privatization earlier de-listed the mills from the active list of privatization and later, a minister gave a statement in January this year that it was on the list of the companies to be privatized.

Secondly, he said a cartel had appeared and questioned that why Messers Hubco, Ayesha Steel, ISL and Altawarqi, all part of the earlier consortium whose deal was set aside by the SC, had been re-associated with the steel mills?  Rabbani further asked from the government why did Hubco and PSM signed a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement on November 23, 2018? Was this agreement placed before the Board of Directors of mills?

“What are the details of the consultative agreement, signed between Hubco, its consortium and the Steel Mills,” he questioned and asked if this agreement had been placed before the BoD of the mills?

“Why have PPRA rules not been followed while awarding the consultancy agreement to the said consortium,” he again questioned. He asked if the Hubco and its consortium had been awarded a contract for renovation and restoration of the PSM? He said that whether it was correct that those wanted to purchase the mills were demanding that the liabilities of this unit should be cleared first.

He asked the government to explain why 9,350 employees of the mills were being retrenched and why its security department had been disabled and a private firm had been awarded the contract at the rate of Rs 7.2 million per month?

Responding to the questions of Rabbani, Information Minister Syed Shibli Faraz assured the house that the government would ensure transparency in the privatization of PSM and the issue of conflict of interest would be taken care of while taking any decision about the mills. He said that no decision would be taken where any conflict of interest arose.

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz, responding to Rabbani’s questions, alleged the previous governments of Muttahida Quami Movement, PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were responsible for the shutting down of one of the biggest industrial units of the country. He said that ghost employees were appointed in PSM during 1990’s by the MQM and at one time, the employment of the mill had swollen to 25,000 employees. He said that the mills was revived in 2002 during the regime of military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and the efficiency of the mills reached up to 96 percent.

Senator Aziz held responsible the 2008 federal government of PPP for further deterioration of the mill and said that it not only made permanent contract employees but they were given promotions before regularizing them and the efficiency of the mill went down to 14 percent. He said that the PML-N government did not show any interest to run the unit and it was shut down in 2015 when then government deprived it of gas utility.. PTI lawmaker informed the house that an amount of Rs170 billion was needed to revive the mills. He said that according a technical assessment conducted recently, only 1,000 employees were needed to operate the mill.