Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), once a leading public enterprise, is now a national embarrassment, costing billions of rupees to the exchequer annually. In a meeting on Thursday, PM Nawaz Sharif approved the sale of 26% shares to the private sector in order to make the airline competitive and service-oriented.

The national flag carrier is a victim of poor management, a steep decline in service standards, and its fleet of aircraft suffer from a propensity to catch fire on occasion. Lice infestation, tickets sold for seating in the toilets, even visitations from rats are not unheard of. Issues such as lack of co-ordination between the departments, over-staffing, pilferage and theft, are persistently pushing the airline into an abyss from which it may not be able to return.

But, there is hope. Unlike the previous government which worked tirelessly to implement its effective strategy of ‘do-nothing’, the federal government has taken a welcome initiative. However, to successfully rescue the airline, the people in power must tread with caution. The news has understandably caused displeasure in the PIA unions, which have geared up to discredit the process of privatisation, who will be busy preparing accusations of corruption and nepotism to cast suspicion on the sale.

Traditionally, any attempt to change the system has faced tremendous resistance, and most governments have succumbed to pressures from the ‘stakeholders’. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the process does not become controversial, as hoped and feared by many, due to its own mishandlings.

A process which ensures the application of acceptable standards of transparency and meritocracy will serve as the most effective reply to even the loudest critics. The private sector cares a great deal about profits. Thus, it is in its interest to adopt the most efficient system possible. The new management, their interests aligned with the success of the business, will be forced to take difficult, but essential steps to revive PIA.

Retrenchment is expected, and protests will continue along side. As long as all this is done with the intention to revive the failed airline, no regrets. It is hoped that the tale of decisions made behind closed doors, favours for the favourites, and a reckless disregard for the prescribed procedure, is not repeated in this instance and the politicians understand the need to save public enterprises, not their own interests.