There is no denying the fact that certain state-owned enterprises (SEOs) have been failing consistently to perform, and have been costing the state instead of profiting it as one would hope. The obvious solution, the only solution, that we have heard coming from relevant policy makers focuses primarily on privatization. Since the issue involves enterprises such as the PIA, PSO, and OGDCL – questions pertaining to public interests cannot be ignored.

The assumption is simple: since unlike governments or states, private businesses’ primary focus is on profit-making, and for that purpose, they employ efficient systems and offer quality services to the benefit of all parties involved. But often times, profit-making comes in direct conflict with public interests. For example, would it be profitable for a private PSO to open stations in a thinly populated area, where people require and buy fuel but just not enough to allow the enterprise to generate more profits compared to the cost of conducting business in the vicinity? It is the job of the Privatisation Commission to address such issues when selling SOEs, on which masses rely consistently and heavily.

It is also rather disappointing to see that the Privatisation Commission is eager to take the ultimate step, that of privatising SOEs, without offering any thoughts on whether some can still be turned around without having to sell them to private entities. Has any study been conducted to ascertain this, any attempt been made to employ private management tools and expertise in SOEs before we pull the plug? The notion that states cannot run businesses has become redundant. China, Russia, Qatar, Brazil and several other countries are showing us that it is indeed possible to run profitable SOEs, which not only offer great services but also compete quite successfully in the global market.

Finally, many ‘economic’ issues have little to do with economic principles and everything to do with people’s behaviors; those in government and outside, who collaborate and collude to protect and promote their interests. Each step of the deal ought to be transparent. The buyers, the terms of the sale, the benefits that the government hopes to gain from it; the public must be kept informed.