PIA’s latest downward spiral is alarming even by its own low standards. Latest headlines may have owed to individual, or group, excesses – pilot dozing off in business class on an international flight with a rookie in the cockpit, another pilot giving a friend a cockpit tour, and the alleged heroin smuggling of course – but the rot lies much deeper. It, just like other PSEs haemorrhaging hundreds of billions every year, is on the top of every party’s campaign agenda, but then conveniently put on the backburner for the rest of the cycle. Senate was first shocked in January, and then in April, about the national carrier’s liabilities first crossing the Rs300b and then the Rs340b mark, yet the government’s only action was replacing a corrupt head with another not-so-clean head, to say the least, which says a lot, ironically.
Not so smart of the petroleum minister, considering the backdrop, to parrot the government line about privatising the airline to ‘improve efficiency’, whatever that means. The sort of price that that would justify a crippled, corrupt and bloated outfit like PIA will be an embarrassment in itself. Far better to do the right, and logical, thing by rooting out corruption, trimming excess staff, making the right investments and running it like a business. But that’s not possible when elections are round the corner. You don’t tell political appointees – that you stuffed PSEs with in exchange for votes – to pack up and go home just before asking for their votes again. And whoever comes to power will, as per tradition, stuff these PSEs with yet more loyal, faithful voters, etc.
There’s a reason PSEs are leaking a good Rs300b, at least, every year. That the government has to continuously feed them, for which it has to borrow in the first place, even though they were meant to generate revenue for the centre, stands all forms of economic/financial theory on its head. And if the past is anything to go by, the future will, sadly, be little different, except for the quantum of the liabilities. This was not the first time PIA was ridiculed before the world and, most likely, not the last time either. And, unless the government takes this bull by the horns immediately, this airline will remain on autopilot and on a crash course.