The Opposition takes it upon itself to resist it ‘tooth and nail’
The three major opposition parties in the parliament, the PPP, PTI and MQM, have doubts about the PML-N government’s privatisation policy and the top leaders of these parties have expressed their strong resolve to oppose any non-transparent privatisation process, even if they had to move the apex court to get the process ‘declared void’.
The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and senior leader of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Syed Khurshid Shah told Pakistan Today that his party would oppose the government’s attitude on privatisation of the state-owned organisations ‘tooth and nail’ and he personally would move the apex court to challenge any step by the government to privatise major public-sector institutions including the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), etc.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should first explain to the nation what he did with Rs472 billion earned from the privatisation of state properties during his party’s last tenure, then he should go for future privatisation,” Khurshid Shah said while talking to this scribe, adding that his party was against the idea of privatisation on the argument that if the government can’t create new jobs for the poor, it had no right to retrench thousands and thousands of the government employees who would have nothing to eat if laid off due to privatisation.
“We have serious doubts about the (PML-N) government’s privatisation policy. In the past, Nawaz Sharif had handed over state owned banks to his cronies for pennies. Now he is going to repeat this loot sale again. The appointment of Shujaat Azim is a prime example of such cronyism. He wants to sell PIA on a throw away price but we would oppose such bids tooth and nail,” he said, adding that privatisation at such a huge scale would only add to the number of unemployed youth who may join Taliban after being retrenched.
Shah said that his party would welcome private investment in the country but it would not allow the government to deprive the poor of their resources of livelihood in the name of privatisation.
“How would people like Shujaat Azim be able to do justice with the privatisation process whose appointment had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court only six months back? How could his appointment be legal in mere six months and how people like him would do justice with the privatisation process of the state institutions?” he asked and added that by repeating the same mistakes time and again, it had been proved that Nawaz Sharif had not learnt from history.
Eminent expert on privatisation and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) central leader Asad Umar told Pakistan Today that the privatisation policy of the PML-N government needed to be thoroughly debated in the parliament and approved by the Council of the Common Interests (CCI) before any privatisation was carried out.
PTI Secretary Information Dr Shireen Mazari said that that PTI would firmly oppose any privatisation transaction, both inside and outside the parliament, until and unless satisfactory assurance were given by the treasury benches about the entire privatisation process.
“The government should explain what will be done to safeguard the rights of the workers in these companies, what will be done to ensure private monopolies are not created, and which companies are strategic to national interests and would not be privatized?” she questioned.
“The principle thrust at this point in time should be on the process. We must demand that the privatisation policy should be first debated in the parliament and then taken to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) for approval. The CCI approval is both a requirement constitutionally as well as needed for the IMF’s requirement that provinces should be on board,” she maintained.
She added that the parliamentary debate and CCI approval must cover all aspects of privatisation including causes of losses in these units, and what steps the government was taking to improve these companies before selling, followed by transparency of the process.
The deputy-convener of the Coordination Committee of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said that his party wanted formation of an independent and broad-based board for privatisation of the state-owned enterprises to ensure that the process was transparent.
“The MQM, in principle, supports the privatisation process but we oppose the way this practice is taking place as it is not transparent. First of all, we want the nationalisation process adopted in the past should be declared illegal and then denationalisation of all nationalised institutions should take place,” he said.
He added that what should have happened was that those government assets that were incurring losses should have been privatised. That didn’t happen and instead those institutions which were profitable were sold out by the past regimes.
He said that and independent privatisation board comprising of top experts should also review the privatisation done in the past and decide the fate of future privatisation.
“We have sought time form the government to seek experts’ views on the future privatisation. After a through discourse we will decide our policy as a team headed by Dr Farooq Sattar is working on the process,” he said.
He said if his party did not agree to the government’s privatisation process, his party would utilise all forums to oppose it, including moving the apex court against the privatisation process.