SC rejects govt plea to reinstate PIA chief

Published: January 21, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has rejected the federal government’s plea seeking reinstatement of Air Marshal Arshad Mahmood Malik as the chief executive officer of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

The Sindh High Court had in December 2019 restrained Malik from carrying out any task as CEO of the national flag carrier till January 22. It issued notices to the air marshal and the federal government.

The provincial high court had also stopped the airline’s chief human resource officer and board of directors, through its chairman/CEO, from carrying out any duties.

It had acted upon a plea filed by PIA’s Senior Staff Association (SASA) General Secretary Safdar Anjum against Malik’s appointment, maintaining that the air marshal did not have the academic qualification or relevant experience, required for the post.

The government, through Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan, challenged the SHC order, arguing that PIA’s revenue increased by 41 per cent whereas its operational losses decreased by 59 per cent under Air Marshal Malik’s leadership.

The AGP, however, failed to convince the apex court on Tuesday.

The three-judge bench — headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed — rejected the plea, as well as summoned all record of the case from the high court.

The bench, however, allowed the board of directors to perform their functions.

Now the top court will hear the appointment case along with the suo moto proceedings regarding the privatisation of PIA.

During the hearing, the CJP expressed concerns over PIA’s operations, saying it had become a “family company”. PIA is a national asset, and not anyone’s personal property, he remarked.

The top court bench raised question over the air marshal’s appointment, saying that “the gentleman” was on deputation who brought along a team of 10 PAF seniors.

The judges also referred to a news report which revealed that PIA awarded Rs700 million contract to a dubious company, noting that fares of the national carrier increased by 100 per cent during Malik’s tenure.

The CJP said Malik would not be given a “free hand” to appoint or remove anyone, adding that it was unclear how an air marshal could operate an airline and that it “was better that he packs up”.

Justice Gulzar stressed that the federal government appoint a chief executive in accordance with the law. “We have no personal grudge [with anyone],” he added.

The AGP pleaded that an advertisement was given for the appointment of the CEO, and Air Marshal Malik was confirmed as the chief executive as per the procedure.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said the advertisement should be reviewed to check if it was issued with a “particular design”. “We will look at old advertisements also,” he added.

The hearing of the case has been adjourned for two weeks.

Air Marshal Malik had been a nominated director since October 17, 2018. He was elected as acting CEO on October 26, 2018 and was appointed regular CEO from April 26, 2019 as per PSC Guidelines 2015.

Before joining PIA, Air Marshal Malik was PAF’s vice chief of air staff (VCAS).

While the federal government continues to face public criticism over its policies, particularly with regards to the economy, the superior judiciary appears in no mood to be any lenient on the various issues expected to end up in courts, including ad-hoc appointments, if senior lawyers are to be believed.

While former chief justices Ifitkhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Saqib Nisar strictly examined top government appointments, others had largely adopted the policy of judicial restraint.

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