The federal government on Wednesday did not entertain any proposal of the opposition and defended the controversial process of privatisation of the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airline (PIA).
Instead, the government sought opposition’s support to clear a pending legislation to change status of the PIA. It also held that taxation on petroleum products was reasonable and claimed that Pakistan is a country where petroleum prices are lowest and where no additional taxation is levied.
The opposition had earlier requisitioned the session to grill the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over its move to privatise the PIA and the present mechanism of petroleum prices.
Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah and other opposition members discussed these two issues at length for four days. Shah asked the government to reconsider its policies on the PIA. But the government’s position remained unchanged and it did not heed any of the opposition’s suggestions.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also made his appearance in the house for a brief time. In Dar’s absence, two federal ministers – Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Zahid Hamid – defended the government’s stance.
In their concluding remarks, the key members of Nawaz-cabinet termed opposition’s stance as unjustified and based on lies.
“There is no substance in the allegations of the opposition and the government will not be in a position to entertain or consider any policy shift,” said Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid.
“The image of the national flag carrier would also increase. There is also consensus of majority on this process of privitisation,” he claimed.
Hamid, however, condemned killing of the two PIA employees who died after receiving mysterious gunshots on February 2, while protesting against the PIA’s privatisation at the Karachi airport. He demanded from his own government that killers must be brought to justice.
“It is regrettable that despite many assurances and guarantees, opposition parties and the PIA’s Joint Action Committee (JAC) did not stop the hue and cry [over the privatisation],” he said.
He said the strike called by the JAC was illegal as the committee did not serve 14-day prior notice – a fact which compelled the government to invoke Essential Services Act. He said during Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) tenure 3,914 PIA employees got retirement while 3,654 new employees were inducted. “However, our government only inducted 693 employees in the airline from 2013 to 2015,” he said.
Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said petroleum prices in Pakistan are the lowest than all other countries. He also relied on regional prices of per liter petrol and diesel but did not discuss his government’s petroleum policy.
“On February 1, we reduced five rupees per liter but India only reduced four ‘paisas.’ We are already following the ‘passing on relief’ strategy in spirit,” he claimed.
He said that Gas Development Infrastructure Cess (GDIC) was imposed during previous PPP government and the present government also followed the suit.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Khursheed Shah said the government ministers gave their final statement on the PIA and petroleum issues while he was chairing a meeting of Public Account Committee. “It is unfair as I requested the treasury benches not to make policy statement in my absence,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2016.
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