Supreme Court restricts all PIA MDs of last decade from leaving country

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar barred all Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) managing directors who served from 2008 to 2018 from leaving the country.

The court had earlier ordered their placement on the Exit Control List (ECL) but later revised its directions.

The court also ordered the formation of a commission to inquire into the airline’s alleged privatisation and ascertain reasons for its accumulation of losses.

The orders came as a three-member bench of the Supreme Court heard the suo motu case into the national flag carrier’s reported privatisation.

As the hearing began, the PIA’s counsel presented a 9-year audit record and informed in response to a query that the organisation’s share is being sold at Rs5 at present.

The counsel informed the court that the airline suffered a loss of Rs44 billion in 2013, Rs37 billion in 2014, Rs32 billion in 2015, Rs45 billion in 2016 and Rs44 billion in 2017.

Referring to the airline’s previous bosses, some of whom were present in court after being summoned earlier, Chief Justice Nisar remarked that “you all destroyed such a large asset…this is an injustice. Those who destroyed PIA are enemies and traitors”.
The chief justice remarked that they are making a commission so the matter of PIA’s losses and alleged privatisation can be investigated.
The court appointed Dr Farrukh Saleem, an economic expert and columnist, as amicus curiae and directed him to make terms of reference for the inquiry and appropriate blame.
Dr Saleem informed the court that the airline posted a profit of over Rs1 billion in 2002, after which matters went downhill.
The chief justice wondered how long taxpayers will continue to bail out the organisation.
Chief Justice Nisar also ruled that until the inquiry is completed, no former MD will leave the country without the court’s permission, adding that the court is thus not putting their names in the ECL.
All the MDs were also directed to appear at every hearing.
In response to a question, the attorney general (AG), who was summoned by the court to submit a response on behalf of the federal government, said that at present the government has no plans to privatise the national airline.

The AG also clarified that PIA had not sold its share of air routes to other airlines.

The hearing was then adjourned for two weeks.

Supreme Court takes notice

On April 6, Chief Justice Nisar summoned former PIA MDs along with an audit report of the national flag carrier.

According to a Radio Pakistan report on April 1, the Supreme Court took notice of PIA’s decision to give up profitable routes to other airlines and the intended privatisation of the airline.

The loss-making national airline has accumulated vast debt over several years owing to official mismanagement.
The present government earlier attempted to privatise part of the airline, including its management, but the plans were put on the backburner after opposition from other political parties and the airline’s staff.
According to media report, PIA was among 68 state-owned companies earmarked for privatisation in return for a $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund package that helped the government stave off a default in 2013, when it came to power.
Despite some initial success, the process stalled in 2016 after staff protests caused havoc with PIA operations and the government passed a law that effectively made it impossible to privatise the airline.