Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry announced on Thursday some important decisions the government had arrived made, prominent among which was the appointment of a new Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) chairman.
“Air Vice Marshal Arshad Khan, who is a serving air vice marshal, has been appointed the new PIA chairman. He has been chosen because he is a considered a big figure in the air force and is a thorough professional,” the information minister said while addressing a press conference.
He said that the national carrier’s state was such that it was currently facing losses worth Rs406 billion and was haemorrhaging Rs2 billion each month in operational losses.
Regarding the appointment of a new CEO for the airline, Chaudhry explained that the appointment has to undergo a process, which has been initiated. He said advertisements will be issued soon announcing the vacancy.
“We can no longer afford to sit by and watch PIA incur such massive losses. A loss of Rs2 billion each month translates to a daily loss of Rs70-80 million each day,” he said expressing the gravity of the situation.
He also said that a restructuring plan for the company had been submitted to the finance ministry, which will be reviewed by Finance Minister Asad Umer after he returns from Indonesia. He will then present the plan to the cabinet for its approval.
The information minister also sought to provide a few preliminary details about the housing scheme announced by the prime minister a day earlier.
He said that in the US, approximately 75 per cent of the houses are built with mortgage financing, while India and Bangladesh also have similar schemes for prospective home owners.
“In Pakistan, we have a mortgage rate of 0.25 per cent, which is extremely low,” he remarked.
He also said that state land will be used as the collateral on which houses under this scheme will be constructed. This way, the banks will also have a safety net (to recover credit if need be).
“We will pledge land belonging to the state, a large proportion of which was recently recovered through various means, and the private sector will then undertake construction activities.
“The government is not investing any money in this. It’s not like our predecessors left us any money anyway for us to be able to invest,” he remarked.
Chaudhry said that the application form to apply for the scheme will be made available soon at a cost of Rs250.
Moving on to the Islamabad airport, which saw at least two accidents this week, Chaudhry said that it had been observed that what was initially estimated to be a project worth Rs38 billion had gone completely out of hand, crossing Rs100bn in expenditures upon its completion.
He said that the prime minister and the cabinet had decided that a thorough audit of the project was in order, including a performance audit. He recalled the collapse of the passenger bridge a day earlier and criticised the quality of construction that had taken place in the project.
In a (not so) veiled attack on the past government, he said: “We all know which construction company was assigned the contract. Ishaq Dar sahab, Munir sahab — everywhere you look you find one of their people.”
Shifting the discussion to the former finance minister, he proceeded to say that the NAB chairman had been instructed to expedite an inquiry against Dar for owning assets beyond known sources of income. He said that the bureau had also been urged to quicken its pace and wrap up other high profile cases.
“We have to face a lot of questions from people. We came into power under the slogan of accountability and so naturally feel responsible for this,” he said.
The information minister also spoke about the 3,000 people who are currently on the exit control list (ECL).
“The prime minister has instructed him [Minister of State for Interior Shahryar Afridi] to see that no innocents have been targeted among these 3,000 people. If it is so, they will be removed [from the list],” the information minister disclosed, adding that Afridi will be presenting a report on the matter in the next cabinet meeting.
Announcing the names of two new people appointed to important posts, Chaudhry said that Mohammand Mian Soomro has been appointed chairman of the Privatisation Commission and Aun Abbas Bappi has been named chairman of the Pakistan Baitul Mal.
On tax matters, the information minister said it had been found that 89 per cent of taxes levied on cigarettes — which amount to around Rs77 billion — are paid by two companies only. He said that the rest of the companies are selling cigarettes illegally and vowed a crackdown against those companies in the coming days.
Similarly, the tax collected from paint companies shows that it is only two or three companies that are paying tax and the rest were not, the information minister noted.
In another important announcement, Chaudhry warned that by the end of the year, no smuggled phones will work as their IMEI numbers will be blocked.
“Smuggled phones on which tax has not been paid will no longer work,” he cautioned. He said that throughout the world, when revenues are assessed, oil import and mobile phones are subject to the most scrutiny, as these prove to be the costliest imports.
Chaudhry also noted that remittances of $40bn were received in Pakistan each year, but only $10bn of these came in through legal channels.
“The PM has summoned [representatives of] the State Bank of Pakistan tomorrow for a discussion on how we can go about increasing our remittances. If there is an increase of $10bn even, it will go a long way to addressing our deficit issues,” he said.