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"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: AliSyed
Full Name: Ali Syed
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LOOT  SALE OF THE COUNTRY



Privatisation or the sale of the century?



Asad Umar


Part - I

The regressive fiscal measures taken by the PML-N government in its first nine months in power make it abundantly clear that PM Sharif’s ‘most experienced’ team has no interest in citizen welfare when taking important economic decisions. 

While the citizens have been burdened by unprecedented increase in prices of electricity, gas, petrol and burdened further by increase in taxes on essential daily use commodities, the elite has been lavished with tax breaks and amnesty schemes to get richer. However, the party may have just begun. The ‘most experienced’ team’s next target is to deliver what may be the ‘grand sale of the century’ – marketing it as the miracle cure for the ailing economy.

This is the same miracle cure that was administered by the ‘most experienced’ team in the 1990s under the IMF stabilisation programme. The results of the 1990s privatisation programme were dismal. The Asian Development Bank’s 1998 evaluation report found that only 22 percent of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that were privatised were performing better under private-sector management, whereas 34 percent of the unit’s performance worsened significantly. 

Out of the 83 manufacturing units privatised, 20 were closed down permanently, leading to significant loss of employment. We risk making the same mistakes if we are not more thoughtful in our approach. The government has prepared a list of 31 state-run enterprises to be privatised within the next three years. There is little to suggest that the results will be any different this time around.

The PTI supports a formal restructuring of state-owned enterprises under an independent board of directors (BoD) and through a transparent process as prescribed by the Pakistan Institute of Corporate Governance. The best example of a developing country successfully turning large inefficient state enterprises into engines of growth is Malaysia. The Malaysian government setup an autonomous strategic investment company ‘Khazana Nasional’, run by an independent BoD with powers to appoint CEOs and hold them accountable on clearly defined performance benchmarks. The landmark Government-Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Programme of Khazana Nasional has been a huge success and has rapidly transformed inefficient SOEs into high performing corporate giants. 

SOEs with strategic importance were kept under government ownership but made competitive through eliminating influence of politicians/bureaucrats. Strategic importance can be for financial reasons (the income generated for government), energy security, employment generation capacity and public service delivery (water, health, education and public transportation). 

A few select SOEs with little strategic importance were also privatised. However, privatisation was pursued only after the SOEs had been restructured and made profitable to achieve maximum value for shareholders (government and public). Importance was given to strengthening the regulatory agencies to achieve the privatisation objectives of enhancing competition and raising competitiveness of industry.

The Khazana Nasional model was also a key recommendation put forward in the National Economic Agenda that was presented to the government in 2012 by the Pakistan Business Council (PBC). This is also what the PML-N promised in their 2013 election manifesto. Specifically, the PML-N manifesto stated that “the immediate task of the CEOs – appointed by independent and professional boards, will be to manage these corporations effectively and to plug the losses”. Instead we see indecent haste in outlining over 31 SOEs for privatisation.

Like all other pre-election promises, the PML-N government has abandoned its promise of a transparent privatisation process managed by an independent board, free of nepotism. Instead the Privatisation Commission BoD nominated by PM Sharif are all members affiliated with the ruling party and hence not independent. The professional expertise of some of the members is also highly questionable.

Despite the passage of over nine months in power, the PML-N government has failed to appoint CEOs of over 28 of the SOEs/institutions. The SOEs being run with acting CEOs include PSM, PSO, OGDCL, SNGPL, SSGC and Pepco etc. 

For example the acting CEO of the PSM is the same man accused by the PML-N to have systematically destroyed Pakistan Steel under the PPP government. This raises serious questions marks on the intent of the government. Questions are propping up over the government preparing to hand over these SOEs at throw-away prices to friends and family.

Similarly, the PML-N government has systematically moved to weaken the regulatory authorities ahead of the planned privatisation programme. Ogra, Nepra, SECP and now even the SBP are without appointed CEOs and are being run on an ad hoc basis. The scant regard this government has for laws pertaining to regulators can be evidenced from the multiple violations of the State Bank Act being committed by the government in the last few months. This again raises serious question marks over transparency of the privatisation process – with the government deliberately and systematically weakening regulatory authorities ahead of initiating privatisation.

The PML-N privatisation mantra is deeply flawed. The party argues that the private sector can run these SOEs more efficiently and that the government can no longer afford to spend taxpayers’ money on bailing out these SOEs every year. There is little evidence to suggest that private enterprises are always more efficient than state-run enterprises. Take the example of the energy sector; Sinopec of China and Saudi Aramco are just as profitable as BP or Exxon Mobil. Similarly, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, both state owned, are bigger and more profitable than almost any of the private sector airlines. 

The corporate banking giants in the US and EU had to be renationalised or recapitalised following the 2008 global financial crisis. The railways sector in the UK and EU had to be renationalised following disastrous results under private-sector management.

The real reason the government is demonstrating undue haste in pushing through privatisation is the need for money to finance its large deficits. The PML-N government borrowed over Rs883bn (June 1 to January 24) from the SBP for deficit financing – a new record beating even the woeful PPP government’s dismal performance. 

The IMF has put strict limits on further money printing and so the government is seeking new avenues to finance its unsustainable deficits. Instead of initiating real reforms to raise government income through tax on the large, extremely wealthy untaxed segments of the economy or curtailing unproductive spending, the government has gone for the easier short cut to finance its large deficits. This is, of course, a very short-sighted strategy as it is onetime revenue earned through sale of the SOEs and will leave the structural problem unresolved.

Let’s dig deeper and see how serious a drain the SOEs put on the government finances. The budget documents show that government paid Rs367bn in FY13 to SOEs for subsidies/losses out of which Rs350bn (95 percent) was accounted by only two entities – Wapda and KESC. As we know, KESC (Karachi Electric) is now a privatised entity. If we take out Wapda and KESC the losses of the SOEs paid by the government in the FY13 budget were only Rs18bn. 

Interestingly, the government forgets to mention the fact that most of the SOEs put up for privatisation are profitable and earned the government over Rs63 billion in dividends alone in FY13. So the net budget impact for the government (dividends minus subsidies) of the SOEs, excluding the power sector, was a positive contribution of Rs45 billion last year!

To be continued 





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