The government has finally announced a new board of directors for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) under the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation Act, 1956, calling on some of the biggest names in the corporate sector to watch over the troubled national carrier.
The eight-member board announced includes Aslam Khaliq, Nasser NS Jaffer, Mian Muhammad Mansha, Arif Habib, Sarfaraz A Rehman, Imran Khan, Aviation Secretary Muhammad Ali Gardezi and Secretary Finance Dr Waqar Masood Khan. Gardezi and Dr Waqar Masood Khan will serve as ex-officio members of the board.
Khaliq currently serves as the chairman of Reckitt Benckiser Pakistan, and has also worked for the Pakistan Tobacco Company in different positions. Jaffer is the CEO and chairman of the Jaffer Group of Companies, which has interests in fertilisers, commodities, household and other products. Mansha heads some of the most profitable companies of Pakistan. In the past, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has used his expert advice to ramp up economic growth and restructure state-run organisations. Arif Habib, chairman of the Arif Habib Corporation, has investments in multiple industries; while Sarfaraz A Rehman was the CEO of the Dawood Foundation. He has taken over charge as the CEO Engro Foods. Imran Khan runs a bottling franchise for Pepsico.
An interesting thing about the development is that Aviation Adviser Shujaat Azeem has opted out from the PIA board. Also, unlike the past when the all-powerful secretary of the Ministry of Defence called all the shots, it is now expected that the PIA chairman will now be nominated from the private sector.
A PIA spokesperson said the board is expected to meet next week and nominate a chairman.
The PML-N had promised to bring professionals on the boards of public sector companies as part of its election manifesto, but it remains to be seen if the government will also allow the board to independently hire a CEO for the airline.
Former PIA chairman and managing director Zafar Ahmed Khan said it remains to be seen if the government will allow the board to exercise its authority without political interference.
“Even during my tenure (in 2007), representation of the private sector [on the board] was more than the government servants on the board. But our oversight was weak, and key decisions were taken by the government,” he said.
Some members of the new board have the confidence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said. “That’s a good thing, because there will be a lot of problems going ahead.”
PIA has accumulated financial losses of over Rs150 billion and is surviving on a government lifeline which has turned into a major drain on the national exchequer.
But Zafar Khan said the presence of Mian Mansha on the board should be a good sign. “He is business-savvy and can be tough and ruthless. You need someone like him to deal with the unions,” he said.
PIA’s employee unions have been a headache for successive managers. From those who work on contracts, to the pilots – nearly all employees are part of one labour union or the other. They have used these platforms to forward individual agendas and halt flights if demands are not met.