ISLAMABAD: A special parliamentary committee made a significant breakthrough on Wednesday when the government and the opposition agreed on a draft of the controversial PIA bill seeking to convert the airline into a limited company.
The opposition parties, however, linked their vote for the bill during a joint sitting of parliament on April 11 to the withdrawal of termination notices issued to at least 12 PIA employees for bringing the airline’s operations to a halt during the protest in February against the proposed law.
The accord on the PIAC (Conversion) Bill 2016 was reached within a few minutes of the arrival of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who had been specially called for the meeting, when the two sides had again failed to agree on the language of the draft.
The opposition members were of the opinion that the language was not in line with the assurance given by the finance minister at the committee’s last meeting on March 29.
Changes suggested by PPP, PTI accepted
Mr Dar not only agreed to include major amendments suggested jointly by the PPP and PTI that the proposed law would not be used as a tool in future to privatise the national carrier, but he also proposed that the draft should restrict the government from divesting more than 49 per cent shares of the airline.
The committee agreed to approve the bill with a major amendment stating that the management control of PIA would remain with the federal government. However, after a lengthy discussion, but in a lighter way and cordial atmosphere, the two sides agreed on the wording of the amendment with an explanation as suggested by Mr Dar.
The agreed amendment says that “the management control of the airline and its subsidiaries will remain with the Board of Directors which shall have representation in proportion to the shareholdings” and that no more than 49pc shares will be divested.
The explanation to be made a part of the bill states: “Which means that the management control will continue to vest with the majority shareholder which is the government of Pakistan.”
The government and the opposition also agreed that the headquarters of the airline would remain in Karachi.
After having agreed on the draft, PTI’s Asad Umar and PPP’s Naveed Qamar and Saeed Ghani asked the government to withdraw the termination notices issued to the protesting PIA employees. They were of the view that there was no justification for action against the employees when the issue had been resolved amicably.
Naveed Qamar said it would be difficult for the opposition to vote for the bill if the employees were not reinstated.
“What will happen if tomorrow the PIA employees again start protest,” Asad Umar said.
The opposition members were of the view that even they could face the wrath of PIA employees if they endorsed the government’s bill without ensuring protection of their rights.
Ishaq Dar said the matter did not fall within the purview of the committee which had the mandate only to make recommendations on draft of bills which were on the agenda of the joint sitting. He said that since he was not aviation minister, he could not give any assurance on the issue.
ACTION DEFENDED: Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N said action against the PIA employees was being taken through an administrative mechanism. He regretted that the employees had lodged an FIR nominating a number of government functionaries, including him, for the killing of their two colleagues during the protest.
Mr Dar suggested that since the joint sitting of parliament would now be held on April 11, the opposition parties could hold negotiations with the government on the issue by that time.
But Saeed Ghani categorically stated that their vote for the bill was subject to the withdrawal of the termination notices by April 11.
At the last meeting of the committee, Mr Dar had given a categorical assurance that PIA would not be privatised, its management control would not be handed over to anyone, the private sector would not be offered any share and no employee would be laid off.
The opposition members had said they were ready to support the bill if the minutes of the meeting containing the finance minister’s assurances be made part of the draft of the bill.
The 10-member bipartisan Committee of the Joint Sitting on Bills had been constituted by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq last month to review drafts of six bills, including the PIA bill, when the opposition parties forced the government to defer consideration for three weeks.
The government had initially imposed the PIA law through a presidential ordinance in December last year, setting off protests by opposition parties and strike by PIA employees.
The ordinance was later rejected by the opposition-dominated Senate through a resolution, forcing the government to take advantage of its numerical strength in the National Assembly and convening the joint sitting to get the bill passed.
The joint sitting was held on March 21 and 22, but the government agreed to adjourn the sitting till April 11 in an effort to develop a consensus on the bill.