These are troubling times for Pakistan’s aviation industry. Not only because of attacks by terrorists or the fact that ASF still uses golf-ball detectors, which are known not to work, to check for explosive materials on cars as they enter airport premises. The problem is much deeper. At the centre is the Civil Aviation Authority, which is both aviation regulator as well as operator for most of the country’s airports.
When he became PM, in his wisdom Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to bring the CAA, the ASF and PIA along with the meteorology department under the Aviation division. He took charge of this new super-division and appointed Shujaat Azeem as his special assistant.
Azeem may have been a poor choice. Soon after his appointment, Azeem had to resign in July 2013 after a three-judge bench headed by chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry summoned him during a hearing to explain why in the light of Articles 93(1, 2) and 63 of the Constitution, he was occupying the sensitive post when he had been court-martialed (by the Pakistan Air Force) and was a dual national.
But in January 2014, Azeem was once again appointed to the position after the retirement of Justice Chaudhry. The brother of PML-N former senator Tariq Azeem, Shujaat Azeem’s appointment was seen as related to PIA’s privatisation and other matters of the national flag carrier.
These days Azeem is the king of aviation in Pakistan. Being a special assistant on aviation, the PIA, Civil Aviation Authority and Airport Security Force come under his control. This is an issue that has caused much heartburn. Previously, positions in CAA were filled by officers on deputation or retired officers on contract. Given that most of them had little or no commercial aviation experience, there were many issues that cropped up.
One would have expected prime minister Nawaz Sharif to have acted to improve the situation, not make it worse. CAA continues to be used by our rulers to oblige near and dear ones. Like the appointment of President Zardari’s brother in law in the previous government to a position or which he was neither suited nor capable. And this is just one of hundreds of such cases.
Today there is absolute confusion about how to run the aviation sector. The attack on the Karachi Airport should have been yet another wake-up call, but again nothing except for the transfer of the Karachi Airport manager was done.
Corruption and mismanagement are eating away at organisations like CAA and PIA. We are told that one reason why the fires at the Karachi Airport were not controlled in time was because the fire engines did not contain the right kind of chemicals. The contract for that was given at several crores but the contractor managed to line the right pockets and get away with his crime. Fire fighters remain poorly trained, say some, because the training they are supposed to receive is instead given to senior officials who availed the opportunity to travel to the US instead.
The project director for the Benazir Bhutto International Airport has been changed for the fifth time since September. One can only wonder why the management cannot find competent people from within the CAA, of which there are many. The Multan Airport project director is not an engineer and legal circles say that as a consultant he cannot get the position.
So where are the engineers? They are being appointed on management positions possibly to keep them away. That is not all. Despite a ban on recruitment, inductions are being reported in both PIA and CAA.
Recent promotions in CAA from 9 to 11 groups have also caused anger. Then there are reports coming in that construction concessions are being given in violation of PAPRA and other rules, without any tenders. If that is not enough, CAA is donating land to sister organizations without following proper procedure.
The International Civil Aviation Organization has in the past objected to how CAA continues to make ad-hoc appointments for its senior positions.
One would have expected prime minister Nawaz Sharif to give both CAA and PIA to professional managers. Instead he gave the job to the near and dear.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2014.
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