After the Cabinet Economic Coordination Committee’s (ECC) approval of funds for the Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS), the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will soon launch the programme. Almost 3,500 permanent employees will benefit from it. The VSS is perhaps the best first step that will put the national airline on the right track. PIA’s administration will achieve a dual goal from it; ensuring the necessary downsizing and avoiding conflict with the workers.

The management of the national airline must also be ready for the worst-case scenario. PIA may not reach the desired figure of application because of the negative stories of earlier separation schemes. Moreover, finding alternate employment nowadays, when COVID-19 has brought the global economy to a halt, is a significant challenge for many people who have quit their jobs recently. Therefore, the offer that PIA makes to its staff must be the one that they cannot refuse.

In any case, the scheme is a positive step in rationalising the expenses of the airline in a bid to reform it. But the plan should not be an end in itself. Instead, the VSS should serve the first step of the reform process. The national airliner reeks of the tales of corruption, mismanagement and poor governance. The government has to take care of all such problems if it wants to reform PIA. Otherwise, the package will amount to a waste of taxpayers’ money.

That said, the government must also pay its attention to other loss incurring public entities. For instance, Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) is one of many such public entities that have turned into white elephants. The state must cohesively deal with the loss-making entities. If committees after committees and change in administration also fail in reforming such enterprises, then privatising them is the only solution. Many will criticise the step. But the government can counter them by citing the example of privatisation of the banking sector in 1994 after which many loss-making banks turned into profit-generating entities.