Editorial PIA

PIA is fast moving towards a point of no return

PIA continues to suffer after the departure of Musharraf Rasool Cyan well after the PTI Government’s 100 Day Plan. Recently federal finance minister boasted on camera about giving money to PIA on Air Marshal Arshad Malik’s request but the question is in what capacity he made the request. Who is Air Arshad Malik? Wasn’t he the serving Vice Air Chief of Pakistan? If so, then what on earth is he doing in PIA? Who appointed him? Is his appointment legal? Is he really qualified for the job of PIA CEO, given that he has no commercial airline business experience? These are all valid and serious questions that point to extraordinary behaviour of certain quarters that enabled Arshad Malik to take over the PIA CEO position without the due process and by bringing in a number of Airforce serving officers to support him. It really was a military-style coup d’état.

As ridiculous as it might sound, it tells the true story of Pakistani democracy and the failure of PTI to exercise power in relation to institutional reform. From the continuing saga of PIA, it is easy to conclude that the Armed Forces and bureaucrats of Pakistan are running rings around the PTI’s new Government and the Government is struggling big time in this regard. If the PTI Government does not want to lose all its credibility, it would have to stand up for the matters that are black or white, legal or illegal while dealing with these quarters.

Surprisingly Ijaz Munir, a close ally of PLM-N was made Secretary Establishment by PTI (a horrendously naive political decision) who quickly planted his man, Saqib Aziz who was near retirement, as the Aviation Secretary Saqib Aziz while having no Airline or Aviation Industry experience was quick to grab the Chairman and CEO roles of PIA, in addition to the Aviation Secretary role. Nobody knows what he was smoking or drinking when he decided to do this. This gives a great insight into the fact as to how sick Pakistan’s bureaucracy really is.

In fact, Saqib Aziz held 4 key Aviation jobs himself by manipulating the Corporate Governance and breaking all the rules and regulations with no regard to corporate law that is applied to PIA. It wasn’t until his appointment was challenged in the High Court of Lahore and the hearing was upcoming that he bolted from the PIA CEO role in a hurry, handing over the Chairman role and CEO position to Air Marshal Arshad Malik.  He appointed him as the CEO using his Board Chairman Powers which, in fact, did not allow him to appoint a CEO in such a manner.

Given that PIA is a publicly listed company, the Board or the Chairman cannot appoint a CEO without following the due process and the due process would have ensured that Arshad Malik did not qualify for the job by any stretch of the imagination. In sacking PIA’s first CEO Musharraf Rasool Cyan from his position last year, the Supreme Court made it crystal clear that CEO of a commercial enterprise like PIA must have the appropriate business and/or Airline experience.

Musharraf had little in this regard and so does the Air Marshal Arshad Malik. The experience of running operations like Kamra Airbase or manufacturing or managing Airforce aircraft fleet in a military organisation are all irrelevant to running the commercial business, like PIA in the CEO capacity, in a competitive industry environment. These diabolically and manifestly wrong decisions or exercise of illegal power in the country is the number one reason for the disastrous state of the institutions like PIA.

Since having taken over the CEO role, the Air Marshall has continued in the tradition of his predecessors making one bad decision after another. Demonstrating that he does not understand the basics of the Airline business. Surely Asad Umar knows this but what could he do in such a forced takeover of PIA but one would have thought that in the new Pakistan of some sort even the “Establishment” should have shown more wisdom for its own reputational sake if nothing else?

Now in a bid to regularise the Air Marshal’s appointment or to sideline him, an advertisement for the CEO position has appeared in the media. Ironically one doesn’t have to be clever to work out that the Advertisement has been tailored to accommodate the Air Marshal or someone like him despite his grossly inappropriate credentials for the job.

By the way, who is heading PIA’s HR function these days, well no prizes for guessing, its another Airforce man, AVM Sbohan Qureshi who until recently was heading up Precision Engineering facility that PIA leases to Airforce but the Air Marshal deemed it necessary to be surrounded by the Airforce leadership, so he transferred AVM Shoban to PIA as the Head of HR. Now judging by the CEO job advertisement, AVM Sobhan either has no idea about the Airline business and HR or he is in the “Yes Sir, three bags full Sir” mode. A poor performance by him to clear the CEO Advertisement that has become a laughing stock of the world.

Similarly, there is another AVM by the name, Noor Abbas, who has been lurking around PIA as CEO’s advisor for some time now but has nothing to contribute. An adviser in the Airline business with zero airlines or Business experience, really? In addition, there are a number of other Airforce Officers now in PIA trying to control a beast they know nothing about and in the process damaging the National Flag Carrier and its people, descending it towards a point of no return, escalating record financial losses and compromising passenger safety.

In PIA there are serious breaches of the Listed Companies Rules of Corporate Governance as well as a complete failure of the Board’s role and duties. This shows a total disregard to due process and the principles of corporate governance and explains the poor state of Pakistan’s Government and its institutions. It is not surprising to see why World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index ranks Pakistan at the bottom of the pile when it comes to its institutions and corruption among other key pillars that may continue to hound its progress for a long time to come.

Unfortunately, ljaz Munir, Saqib Aziz, AM Arshad Malik, AVM Noor Abbas and most like them are all product of the world’s lowest-ranked institutions and therefore a change of guard is essential if any progress is to be achieved in PTI’s term in Government. Everyone can see the great damage PIA has suffered in the last few months through terrible brand damage, increasing record financial losses, mismanagement in relation to failed projects, and engineering technology problems that have caused massive flight delays causing great customer inconvenience and safety exposures.

The above scenario has also had a highly demotivating effect on PIA staff and management which has hit rock bottom. This, in turn, impacts the customers directly who bear the brunt of all this mismanagement. This is not the change the country was expecting from the new PTI Government.


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