As the crisis at Pakistan Railways (PR) reaches a new peak, the most recent financial crisis at PR can be blamed upon an impasse between the finance ministry and the railways ministry. However, the problem has its origins in the decades-long politicisation of the management and hiring practises at PR; once a proud, rich and highly profitable organisation.
Like most publicly owned companies, PR is grossly overstaffed. The company has a rather bad habit of not maintaining its locomotives, with the result that well over 500 of them are now dysfunctional and the rest operating at such low efficiencies that its fuel costs are skyrocketing beyond the already high pace of energy price increases. Belated, the railways ministry has realised this and has asked the finance ministry for funds to purchase newer locomotives as well as repair old ones. The Q Block is quite rightly concerned about the credibility of PR’s promises to spend the money as they say they will.
For the past decade, PR has constantly been seeking bailouts every year that have run into billions of rupees. Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has had a very public falling out with Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, insisting that the railways ministry, present a credible plan to restructure PR and restore it to profitability before the government will release any funds to what has become a perennial basket case. Both men have refused to budge from their respective position, which has caused inconvenience to railway employees, passengers and even pensioners. The government cannot simply fork over money to state-owned corporations without holding them accountable. Bilour’s insistence that his plan, which has been deemed inadequate by any who have actually read it, is nothing short of irresponsible. Thankfully, President Asif Ali Zardari seems set to intervene and at least on the surface, is siding with the finance ministry. We hope his intervention results in a permanent solution to this decades-long problem.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.
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