Govt’s PSM move receives dressing-down in Senate

Upper house passes resolution against Indian atrocities in IOJ&K

Shabbir Husain June 05, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The opposition unleashed trenchant criticism against the government’s decision to sack thousands of employees of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and privatise the mega industrial unit during the Senate session on Friday.

The upper house, which met here with Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in the chair, was also informed that coronavirus outbreak had affected the country’s trade with China, while around 3 million jobs could be lost in the "initial round" of the pandemic.

During the session, the opposition came down hard on the government decision to sack PSM employees.

Mushahidullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) even demanded resignation of Planning Minister Asad Umar for what he called ‘reneging on the party’s promise’ of restarting the Steel Mills.

“Imran Khan and Asad Umar had promised to run the PSM. Now what happened to those promises and claims,” he questioned rhetorically. His views were endorsed by Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq. “Imran Khan had said that if he came to power, he would run the steel mills.  It's been two years now, why isn't it running?”

Another opposition senator, Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum of the PML-N, who had previously served as the PSM chairman, proposed that a separate debate should be held in the house on the privatisation of the Steel Mills.

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar on Friday apprised the Senate that the losses of state owned enterprises have surpassed even to the annual defence budget due to the indecisiveness and regressive policies of previous governments.

Responding to various supplementary questions during Question Hour, the minister said the past governments failed to revive or privatise PSM.

“Since then, the government has been paying Rs35 billion in employees’ salaries,” he said, adding that the debt of the PSM had soared to Rs211 billion, while its losses rose to Rs176 billion.

“We want to run the steel mills in partnership with the private sector,” he said, adding however, “we will move towards privatisation after debt restructuring”. The chair referred the matter to the standing committee concerned.

The PSM couldn't be revived or privatised during the PPP and the PML-N's tenures and a sum of Rs35 billion had been paid during the past five years from the taxpayers' pockets to its employees, he added.

The minister said that the PSM employees had not been working for the last many years and now they would get a financial package of minimum Rs2.3 million to Rs 7-8 million per employee as compensation.

He clarified that only the operations of PSM would be privatised while thousands of acres of land would still remain in the custody of the PSM.

To a question, the minister said PSM owned 19,013 acres and no land has been sold out.

However, PSM has leased out some of its land to Down Stream Industrial Estate, M/s National Industrial Park Management and Development Company and township to its employees.

To a question, the minister said PSM has total 8,944 employees. Later the chairman referred questions pertaining to PSM to the concerned standing committee on the demands of members for detailed deliberation.

Pandemic impact

The industries minister also informed the upper house that three million jobs – one million in the industrial sector and two million in services sector – were likely to be lost in the initial round of the virus crisis.

He added the fiscal deficit was expected to rise from the initial target of 7.5% to 9.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) due to revenue shortfall and "increase in public spending due to the fiscal stimulus package".

According to the minister, exports might fall to $21-22 billion owing to low prices and reduced economic activity in the US, European Union, UK and the Middle East. Remittances were also expected to fall from $23 billion to $20-21 billion.

The house was informed that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) might miss the revenue collection target for the current fiscal year by Rs700-900 billion. The minister also told the house that the rupee depreciated by 7.5pc in March over February.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution moved by Opposition Leader Raja Zafarul Haq, against Indian atrocities in the occupied Kashmir and called on the United Nations and other international organisations to take notice of the situation in the occupied territory.




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