LAHORE - Opposition Leader Syed Khurshid Shah suspects that the government was planning to sell precious PIA properties for just Rs 165 billion, though their actual value is around Rs1,000 billion.

“The total worth of PIA assets in Pakistan alone is Rs 1,000 billion, but the government is going to sell them to its front men for just Rs 165 billion,” he told The Nation in an interview, part of which was published on Friday.

“But nobody is going to condone this mega corruption. They will be held accountable for this sooner or later,” he observed.

The opposition leader was asked to give an in-depth analysis of what plagued the national flag carrier in his view and how could it be reformed to run on profit.

Giving some interesting details about PIA’s expenditures which have been a subject of criticism in the political circles as well as in the media, Shah said that only 14 per cent of airline’s total budget was meant for salaries. “Out of this, 10 per cent went to employees hired on exceptionally higher salaries (ranging from Rs 2 million to 4 million) while low grade employees though greater in number got only 4 per cent of the total salary budget. And majority of the PIA employees recruited during last PPP tenure fall in the latter category as their salaries don’t exceed Rs 18,000 per month,” he explained.

He further said that the annual PIA losses during the PPP tenure did not exceed Rs 18 billion despite the fact that the oil prices had touched the highest mark of $110 per barrel at that time. “Presently, the annual losses have gone up to Rs 30 billion though the oil prices are as low as $25 dollar per barrel,” he made his point.

Khurshid informed that during the PPP tenure PIA was spending 56 percent of its total budget on purchase of oil whereas the present management was spending only 21 per cent under the same head due to low oil prices.

He believed that PIA could still be made a profitable organisation provided the government bears its losses amounting to Rs 300 billion and improves its management. According to his assessment, PIA can generate an annual profit of Rs 6 to 7 billion.

The opposition leader said that if the government wanted to launch a new airline it could do so but it should not abolish the PIA. He suspected the government will allocate international routes to the new airline while PIA would be asked to operate on local routes.

Asked why his party’s government could not set the things right in its tenure, Khurshid attributed the failure to extraordinary high prices of oil at the time. “We were then spending 56 per cent of airline’s total budget only on the purchase of oil,” he said, adding the present government should get the benefit of sinking oil prices to reduce the expenditures.

Asked why his party was opposed to privatisation of institutions even though they were a burden on the national exchequer, Shah argued it was better to make them run on profit through better management rather than selling them off at throwaway prices. Also, the future of thousands of employees is at stake in case of privatisation, he said.

Shah went on to say: “Look! What the PML-N government has done with the national assets in the name of privatisation. Twenty-six percent shares of PTCL were sold for just Rs170 billion out of which Rs80 billion are yet be recovered. Fifty-one percent shares of Allied Bank were sold for Rs970 million and now they are worth Rs 150 billion. Similarly, MCB was sold for just Rs2.6 billion whereas the present worth of its shares is Rs 300 billion.”

Talking about the current controversy over the dual roles of NAB and FIA, Khurshid Shah said there should be only one department for accountability in the country.

In his view, the existing federal departments of NAB and FIA were performing the same role. “Both the agencies are probing cases of similar nature, and this duality of their roles was creating a lot of confusion. They should be merged to make a new department out of these with a new nomenclature,” he said, adding the new accountability department should not work under the interior ministry. “It should be an independent department answerable only to the Parliament.”

When asked to comment on PPP chief Asif Zardari’s recent statement, he said he did not see anything new in it. “What is wrong with the statement?” he asked. But he admitted that it was issued in a situation that made it controversial in the media. “There is nothing new in it as the PPP has always supported the army for its efforts and sacrifices for eradication of terrorism. This useless debate on trivial issues must end now,” he concluded.