The upper house of parliament on Friday rejected a bill aimed at converting the Pakistan International Airlines into a limited company. The fate of the controversial bill would now be decided in a joint parliament session, which is expected to take place next week.
On Friday, the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Bill, 2015 – widely considered a prerequisite for PIA’s impending sell-off – was introduced in the Senate session by Climate Change Minister Zahid Hamid.
Government tables PIA sell-off bill in Senate
Senate Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri twice sought verbal consent to take the bill into consideration but the move was rejected by a majority of lawmakers both times.
While the proposed law was earlier passed by the lower house amid an opposition walkout, the senators rejected the bill with majority votes, defeating the government’s move to pave the way for privatising the national flag carrier.
The PIA conversion bill was tabled in the upper house on February 18 but it was referred to a Senate standing committee, which rejected it because the opposition was not taken into confidence before the sell-off plan was drafted.
The Constitution allows the government to convene a joint sitting in case a bill sent to a house is rejected or is not passed within 90 days. Under Article 73(3), any such bill shall be considered in a joint sitting and if passed by majority votes shall be presented to the president for final approval.
But a senior Parliament House official told The Express Tribune that presenting the bill for PIA’s privatisation in a joint sitting would be considered a failure for the government, as this constitutional right has rarely been exercised.
The ruling PML-N enjoys a huge majority in the National Assembly with 187 seats. The opposition parties like the PPP, PTI and MQM have 46, 34 and 23 seats, respectively. In the Senate, however, the PML-N has 26 senators with the PPP having 27 members and the PTI seven members.
Govt to split flag carrier into ‘good and bad PIA’
The government can easily manage to get the PIA privatisation bill passed through a joint session of parliament.
The controversy started when President Mamnoon Hussain promulgated an ordinance on PIA, paving the way for the privatisation of the national flag carrier under a condition of the International Monetary Fund’s loan programme.
There are about 18,000 employees at PIA and many of them are on contract. The airline has one of the highest aircraft-to-staff ratio in the world, hovering about 500 workers per plane against the industry’s average of 150.
Officials believe the PIA is overstaffed by at least 5,000 employees. The government has given an assurance to the staff they would not be fired after privatisation.
In the ongoing session, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has already asked the government to present eight bills passed by the upper house and currently pending before the lower house in the joint sitting.
The government has, however, no other option but to include these bills on the request of the upper house from where these bills originated.
PPP legislator Farhatullah Babar also initiated a discussion on enforced disappearances. “The situation of missing persons will get worse if we continue to deny the need for introducing a measure of transparency, oversight and accountability in the working of the of the nation’s security,” the senator said.
IMF agrees to delay PIA sell-off for six months
He recalled a Human Rights Committee report of 2013 and the draft legislation that was unanimously adopted by the Senate later.
“To begin with,” he said, “the government should at least come out with its observations and objections if any, to the draft legislation for a dialogue and discussion with parliament to address the issue of missing persons.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2016.
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