Tuesday May 08, 2018
ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar ordered on Tuesday an inquiry against the country's former aviation head Shujaat Azeem and directed to place his name on the Exit Control List (ECL) over his alleged mismanagement of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
The orders were given as a three-member Supreme Court bench heard the suo motu case on the national airline’s reported privatisation and poor financial conditions.
After having been summoned, Azeem and the present aviation adviser, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, appeared in court today.
Directing his ire at Azeem after receiving a briefing on the airline's poor financial health, the chief justice remarked that it is in his tenure that the major loss occurred, adding that Azeem cannot leave the country.
Azeem’s name was then ordered to be placed on the ECL and he was directed to submit a written response.
Moreover, the court ordered the National Accountability Bureau to file a reference against him after holding an inquiry.
When Azeem said the losses did not occur in his tenure, the chief justice wondered whether angels descended down and consumed billions of rupees then.
The chief justice also remarked during the hearing that the court is well aware how and why Azeem was made the aviation chief.
In the present government's tenure, Azeem served as the prime minister's aviation adviser as well as special assistant on aviation but had to resign from both posts after the Supreme Court's intervention on various illegalities.
Earlier as the hearing went under way today, the chief jutsice vowed not to spare those who damaged PIA.
Addressing Abbasi, the chief justice remarked that the PIA did not suffer in his tenure, adding that he should however review what all has occurred at the organisation.
At the start of the hearing, the chief justice inquired whether all former managing directors (MD) of the airline are present in court, noting that the court had only allowed two former heads to leave the country temporarily.
'Total losses stand at Rs360 billion'
Economist Farrukh Saleem, who was appointed amicus curiae by the court earlier, is giving a briefing to the bench on a projector.
In his briefing, Saleem informed the court that in 2008, PIA’s revenue operational cost was Rs129 billion, revenue was 89 billion while total losses stood at Rs73 billion.
Saleem added that from 2008 up till now, the loss has accumulated to Rs360 billion.
The chief justice observed that these losses occurred in the time of the last two governments.
He stated that in 2013 an aviation division was established with Azeem as its head.
Chief Justice Nisar regretted that taxpayers' money is consumed by PIA.
Terming political interference and association policies as reasons for the poor financial conditions, Saleem claimed employments in PIA were made on political grounds in the last 10 years.
Saleem informed that PIA has seven unions affiliated with political parties.
He added that 45 planes were bought on lease from 2008-17 while their grounding caused a loss of Rs6.67 billion.
Moreover, he stated that 287,000 tickets were distributed in 2013 which caused a loss of Rs5 billion. The chief justice inquired as to who all were given free tickets and added that they will look at this aspect of the case later.
The chief justice then inquired whether the MDs will submit a joint response to these statements or individual replies.
Former MDs barred from leaving country
At the last hearing of the case on April 12, Chief Justice Nisar had barred all PIA MDs from 2008 to 2018 from leaving the country.
The court had earlier ordered their placement on the Exit Control List (ECL) but later revised its directions.
The court also ordered the formation of a commission to inquire into the airline's alleged privatisation and ascertain reasons for its accumulation of losses.
As the hearing began, the PIA's counsel presented a 9-year audit record and informed that the airline suffered a loss of Rs44 billion in 2013, Rs37 billion in 2014, Rs32 billion in 2015, Rs45 billion in 2016 and Rs44 billion in 2017.
Referring to the airline's previous bosses, some of whom were present in court after being summoned earlier, Chief Justice Nisar remarked that "you all destroyed such a large asset...this is an injustice. Those who destroyed PIA are enemies and traitors".
Chief Justice Nisar also ruled that until the inquiry is completed, no former MD will leave the country without the court’s permission, adding that the court is thus not putting their names in the ECL.
All the MDs were also directed to appear at every hearing.
On April 6, Chief Justice Nisar summoned former PIA MDs along with an audit report of the national flag carrier.
According to a Radio Pakistan report on April 1, the Supreme Court took notice of PIA's decision to give up profitable routes to other airlines and the intended privatisation of the airline.
The loss-making national airline has accumulated vast debt over several years owing to official mismanagement.
The present government earlier attempted to privatise part of the airline, including its management, but the plans were put on the backburner after opposition from other political parties and the airline's staff.
According to a Reuters report, PIA was among 68 state-owned companies earmarked for privatisation in return for a $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund package that helped the government stave off a default in 2013, when it came to power.
Despite some initial success, the process stalled in 2016 after staff protests caused havoc with PIA operations and the government passed a law that effectively made it impossible to privatise the airline.