ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan People’s Party said on Sunday that it will strongly resist the privatisation of the Pakistan International Airlines and the Pakistan Steel Mills in the parliament.

Addressing a joint news conference here, PPP Secretary General Syed Nayyar Bokhari and Secretary Information Dr Nafisa Shah said the proposed privatization of the PIA and the PSM was a step against the working class.

The PPP leaders said that their party was pro-labour and will not allow anyone to privatize national assets.

Bokhari said: “We believe that this arbitrary and hurriedly done action is done with an ulterior motive. We consider it is malafide, ill-advised, ill-intentioned move to undertake such a decision with only four months prior to 2018 elections.”

In the past 5 years, he said, both PSM and the PIA had been made to suffer from deliberate and criminal neglect, mis-governance and corruption so as to destroy these two national institutions.

“We believe both the present prime minister and the former one have ulterior motives in privatizing the two entities. And a conflict of interest as one is a steel tycoon and the other is an airline tycoon,” he said.

Bokhari said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had been chairman of the PIA and used that office to make his own airline. “Why is it that the New York airline is discontinued by the PIA but is initiated by Air Blue,” he asked.

(Former prime minister) Nawaz Sharif led the cartel of the private steel industry and this has led to the downfall of Pakistan’s largest steel industry. With two capitalists earning billions of rupees at the cost of state industry, can one expect any better, he contended.

Bokhari said it seemed both the present and the former prime minister wanted to dispose of state assets to benefit their own cronies, partners, allies, friends and family as has been done in the past.

He said the PSM had been deprived of gas since 2015, and employees’ salaries are paid after a lag of months. Gas was discontinued at a time when the production was 65 percent.

“This is clearly a slow kill. Make the mills dysfunctional, starve the employees so that there is no option in sight,” he said.

The PPP leader said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project required much steel and iron, but instead of supporting “our own basic industry, the government was importing billets from other countries.”

Dr Nafisa Shah said that former President Asif Ali Zardari had signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to run the steel mills but this government has put that agreement in the dustbin.

“The government has made no attempt at its revival. We have reasons to believe that the rate at which its land is being sold is far lower than its book value,” she said.

Shah said that the PIA suffered losses during the PPP time largely on account of the very high fuel price. “Airlines all over the world were suffering in that period. But despite oil prices at a historical low, the PIA has only continued to suffer huge losses,” she said.

She said the narrative of PPP hiring employees was fake. “Even today, every flight is running with a short crew. It is estimated that more than 600 flights a week are being given free access to Pakistan, and these have reduced PIA’s market share from 45 percent to 25 percent in the last four years and 120,000 seats and loss of market share worth $ 3 billion annually.”

Shah said the open skies policy was launched in Pakistan with no discussion, business plan, or clear targets and this was the main reason for the downfall of the PIA.

She said Nawaz Sharif was on record saying that he would like to sell the Roosevelt hotel.

Former PIA chief executive Bernd Hildenbrand was alleged to have made a deal wherein an airworthy A-310 plane was sold to a German company for Euro 45,000, although the same aircraft was hired by a filmmaking company in Malta for 10 days at a cost of $ 210,000 and its book value was estimated to be $3.1 million.

She said the PIA board of directors had given approval for leasing A-330 from Sri Lankan Airlines at over $ 8,000 per hour although a similar aircraft had been leased by a privately registered Pakistani airline for approximately $4000 per hour.

Shah said that the PIA management was also violating its own laws. Under the law, all headquarters are to be situated in Karachi. “But the PIA has overnight shifted its revenue management and central reservation wings to Islamabad,” she said.

She said that the present “wrongfully assigned” PIA union was in cahoots with the government, and “is assisting them in selling off the airlines.”