PIA example

  • Political appointments

News reports that the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has recommended the immediate sacking of PIA chief executive officer Musharraf Rasool Cyan, calling his appointment an “irregular favour,” should set a welcome precedent and prompt similar investigations into other state enterprises. That an audit found the national carrier’s CEO an irregular appointee, in violation of at least a dozen or so rules, is hardly surprising. Stuffing Public Sector Enterprises (PSE) with political appointees was, after all, one of the many gifts that our particular brand of democracy brought with it. That is why they have been hemorrhaging hundreds of billions of rupees every year for decades now.

PSEs were originally instituted for the twin purposes of service delivery and revenue generation, of course. And for quite a while the carrier, railways, and the rest did a handsome job on both counts. But since the 90s, especially – with the onset of the first ‘decade of democracy’ – they have been repeatedly put under the not so able command of people just like Mr Cyan, and in the same manner; in addition to the thousands of political supporters given government jobs in return for help in winning the election, etc.

Now, resultantly, we are in a position where one of the few viable options is privatisation; but at bottom dollar. And that, of course, is just not feasible. The other way of dealing with the problem is slightly more long term. It involves throwing out all the political appointees, hiring professionals, cutting costs and rebuilding revenue streams. And, happily, these processes start with precisely such audit reports as the one doing rounds in the press regarding the AGP’s proposal. The PTI government has made some tall claims regarding the PSEs. But the most Asad Omar has mentioned is a special fund to turn them around and sell them off. But what about the anti-corruption drive that will cleanse state enterprises? How PIA deals with this situation will tell a lot about the bigger picture.