ISLAMABAD            -        The government on Friday in the Senate rejected criticism of Opposition that it was using PIA plane crash incident to cover up weaknesses of State-owned airline on adoption of international safety standards.

Winding up the call attention notice on suspension of flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to EU countries, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan turned down Opposition allegations that recent incident of PIA plane crash in Karachi was being used as a cover up as the airline was already facing ban from European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). 

He also overruled that his statement on fake licenses of pilots was an effort to bring the state-owned airline to the verge of collapse to pave way for its privatisation.

He told the upper house that EASA ban on PIA for its flights in EU countries and three cities of UK has neither been imposed due to plane crash incident nor because of his statement that some of the PIA pilot possess fake degrees. “This is an old issue as PIA is facing questions on safety standards since 2007,” he said.

The Minister informed the House that this was not the first time that EASA has suspended operations of the airline in EU countries.

“The operations of some of the PIA planes had remained banned from 2007 to 2009 on safety issues and after this, the airline was under surveillance due to safety hazards.”

He said that EASA in 2019 had given its six observations on PIA to comply with these till June 30, 2020. “This is true that five of its observations were addressed and the sixth one on safety standards was not complied with.”

Sarwar Khan said that the ban would remain in force for two months till the end of August. But the government is going into appeal till the end of July. “We hope that flights will resume before the end of this year as we are doing our best efforts.”

The Minister further told the house that the issue of fake licenses of PIA pilots was also old before PTI came into power and Supreme Court has taken a suo motu notice on alleged fake degree of employees of the airline in 2018.  These people had been recruited before 2018, he said.

He said that the degree of as many 17 pilots besides many people from technical staff, ground handlers and cabin crew had turned out to be fake during a verification exercise carried out on the directions of apex court and over 600 employees were sacked from service.

The minister agreed that the examination process to give licenses to pilots had been changed and made computerized in 2012 which led to the use of unfair means through accessing passwords illegally.

He said an inquiry board formed in 2019 has put a question mark on the credentials of 262 pilots and their licenses were dubious or suspected. He clarified that licenses of those pilots would be called as fake who used unfair means to get the same. He said those people who issued these licenses would be proceeded with criminal cases a money was involved in the matter. On the matter that Pakistani pilots working abroad are facing difficulties due to his statement, he said that government has cleared 166 such pilots out of total 174 working in 10 countries. “We had received verification requests of credentials of such pilots from these countries,” he said, adding, that there was a question mark on the credentials of the remining.

He also said that some reports were wrong that US President Donald Trump was interested to purchase PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel in New York. He said that this was also wrong to say that the government wanted to induct pilot of PAF and a private airline into PIA by sacking its own pilots.

“We will not privatize PIA rather will bring reforms in it and restructure it,” he said adding that the government wanted to bring back the airline to its past days of glory. After this, the parliamentary leader of PML-N in the house Mushahidullah Khan said that the stance of the Minister and Director General Civil Aviation Authority was different on the issue of fake licenses and the government itself was not clear on it.

Earlier, former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani speaking on his call attention notice placed his 19 questions before the house. He questioned that was it correct to assume that the unfortunate air crash incident was used to cover the threat of suspension of PIA flights that was looming large due to the management of airline?

“Is it correct that, the government talks only of embarrassment but in actual fact this disclosure has brought PIA to a total collapse?” He also said that whether the disclosure was deliberate so that PIA crashes financially and that then it is privatized on a “as is, where is: basis to a crony of the government?”

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi said that the country faced embarrassment due to the statement of minister on fake licenses of pilots. Separately, the opposition in the house criticized the PTI government for making another hike in the prices of medicines amid Covid-19 pandemic.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman speaking on her call attention notice regretted that the government instead of giving relief to the masses during days of pandemic has given “favour to the pharma industry.”

She said the federal government has allowed pharmaceutical companies to increase prices of medicines up to 10 per cent.

“Pharmaceutical companies have increased the prices of their lifesaving drugs by up to 7 per cent and other drugs by up to 10 per cent on approval of the government and its policy board”.

The parliamentary leader of PPP in the house said increasing prices of medicines had become a norm for this government. “In 2019, the government had allowed the pharmaceutical companies to increase the prices of 45,000 medicines up to 15 percent. Moreover, the prices of 463 hardship medicines were increased by 200 percent,” she added.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan in response admitted that seven per cent increase in prices of essential medicines and 10 per cent in non-essentials medicines has been approved but it will come into force after more than two months. He said that no government wanted to increase prices of medicines with its free will.

He said the government wanted to review the hike in prices but there were some compulsions as prices were market driven.

The state minister pointed out the drug policy that was in force had been introduced in 2018 when the PML-N was in power. He also said that prices of 360 generic medicines had been decreased.

The House also unanimously passed a resolution condemning moving of leading Kashimiri freedom fighter and Chairperson of Dukhtaran-e-Millat Aasiya Andrabi to Tihar Jail in New Delhi.

The resolution that was moved by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed condemned the Indian government’s decision to move her to isolation ward of notorious jail.