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Subsidies to Public Sector Units Hurt Education in Pakistan

"...under 1.5% of GDP [is] going to public schools that are on the front line of Pakistan's education emergency, or less than the subsidy for PIA, Pakistan Steel, and Pepco." Pakistan Education Task Force Report 2011


Pakistan has ordered 5 Boeing 777s and 75 train engines for its state-owned companies in a bid to catch up with rising passenger and cargo service demands, according to media reports.

Boeing, the American aerospace giant, has announced the $1.5 billion deal with Pakistan International Airline (PIA) which includes a firm order of five 777-300ER (extended range) jets as well as the purchase rights for an additional five, according to Fox News.

Separately, The News is reporting that Pakistan Railway is purchasing 75 Chinese-made train engines for $105 million.

Highways have now become the most important segment of transport sector in the country, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan. At the time of Pakistan's independence in 1947, transportation by roads accounted for only 8% of all traffic. Today, it accounts for 92% of national passenger traffic and 96% of freight.

The last decade has seen major competition coming from first-class private bus services now operated on modern motorways in all parts of Pakistan. The best known of these is Daewoo bus service with its comfortable luxury coaches and stewardesses offering meal services. With the construction and expansion of national highways and motorways, the trucking industry has also grown by leaps and bounds in the last few decades.

In mid-90s, Pakistan Railway had 10.45% share of passenger traffic and 5.17% of freight traffic, which has declined to 9.95% and 4.72% respectively by the year 2006-07, according to Economic Survey of Pakistan.

Pakistan Railway has been weighed down by heavy expenses of payroll and rising corruption and incompetence. As a result, a large number of engines are no longer operational and there have been big cuts in service.

After gaining domestic and international traffic market share for several decades after independence, Pakistan International airline has been losing it in recent decades because of serious problems of corruption and mismanagement by the cronies of the ruling politicians. PIA is now losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year while being hit by lean and mean domestic private airlines and international competition from rising Gulf giants like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Today, PIA's employee to aircraft ratio of 450 is more than twice as much as some of its competitors. "Politically motivated inductions have been the major cause of the significant increase in human resource burden in this organization," the State Bank of Pakistan said recently.

Pakistani taxpayers are heavily subsidizing the national airline at the expense of much more crucial public sectors like education. Last year, a Pakistani government commission on education found that public funding for education has been cut from 2.5% of GDP in 2007 to just 1.5% - less than the annual subsidy given to the various PSUs including PIA, the national airline that continues to sustain huge losses.

The latest example of the use of public funds to buy support for the government is Rs 366 million given in "discretionary development funds" as reward to senators for passing the 20th Constitutional Amendment with more than two-third majority, according to Pakistani media reports.

The crux of the issue for the bloated public sector units like PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan Railways is the reprehensible system of political patronage which puts the wrong people in charge of them. The sooner PIA, PR and other PSUs become privatized, the easier it will be to revive them for better service and improved profitability. It will turn them into a source of much needed revenue for the public treasury, just as the denationalization of banks did in the last decade.

From an after-tax loss of Rs. 9.77 billion in 2001 (when MCB, Habib, UBL and Allied were government owned) the earnings of these privatized banks rose to a profit after-tax of Rs. 73.115 billion in 2007. Higher earnings meant increased tax contribution by these banks to the government from Rs 10.8 billion in 2001 to Rs. 33.8 billion in 2007, according to data provided by former State Bank governor Mr. Shahid Kardar.

Even if privatization of the heavily subsidized public sector units does not yield higher tax revenue from them, it will at least free up public funds for more pressing needs like education, health care, energy, water and public infrastructure development.

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Tags: Education, PSUs, Pakistan, Sunsidies

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 4, 2013 at 8:34am

There are some who are concerned that Nawaz Sharif will gift state-owned companies like PIA and Pak Steel to his buddies like Mian Mansha.

Regardless who they are sold to at whatever price, Pakistani taxpayers will be better off. These state-owned companies are used by politicians for political patronage by hiring large numbers of incompetent and corrupt people. These enterprises are sucking up a lot of tax money year after year.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/07/political-patronage-trumps-public.html

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 23, 2014 at 10:12pm

Here's a WSJ report on Pakistan's privatization plans:

From India to Bangladesh to Afghanistan, much of South Asia this year will be focused on elections and uncertain, sometimes violent transfers of power. An exception is Pakistan, where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office last summer in the country's first transition from one elected government to another. This year Mr. Sharif has the opportunity to deliver on a longstanding promise to privatize Pakistan's state-dominated and inefficient economy.

Pakistan's problems are legion, from terrorism and lawless territories to power shortages and polio. Privatizing state-owned dinosaurs isn't the sole solution, but the sooner Islamabad can stop hemorrhaging 500 billion rupees (nearly $5 billion) annually on budgets, subsidies and bailouts for failing enterprises, the better.

Spurred by a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Sharif's government committed in September to begin privatizing more than 30 public energy, transport and infrastructure corporations over three years. These include Pakistan State Oil, Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel Mills.

To lead the process, Mr. Sharif appointed a 15-member privatization commission last month headed by Mohammad Zubair, formerly IBM's IBM +0.26% chief financial officer for the Middle East and Africa. Mr. Zubair should have the expertise and political independence to push his mandate aggressively, starting with the partial privatization of Pakistan International Airlines by December.

Reform prospects further improved last month when Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry reached retirement age and left the bench, ending a career distinguished by aggressive interventions in politics. In 2006 he blocked the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills, arguing that the government wanted to sell the enterprise for less than its true value.

That helped lead to a showdown with then President Pervez Musharraf, who tried to banish the chief justice from power but ended up provoking a popular backlash that cost him the presidency in 2008. Reinstated in 2009, Mr. Chaudhry became more aggressive, reliably quashing or deterring government attempts to cut subsidies or reform state-owned enterprises.

Even assuming a less powerful and more business-friendly high court, Mr. Sharif's reforms will still face resistance from organized labor and Pakistan's two major opposition parties. "We are against privatization 100 percent. This is not privatization, this is personalization," says Pakistan People's Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who accuses Mr. Sharif of plotting to enrich his fellow industrialists.

Overcoming such opposition will be a challenge, but the prime minister has the bully pulpit and economic arguments that can resonate. In September, Gallup Pakistan found 70% of the population in favor of privatizing Pakistan International Airlines....

Mr. Sharif also has to reassure investors that if they bid on properties their ownership rights will be protected. One cause of continuing concern is the unresolved spat between the Pakistani government and Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates' largest telecom firm, over payments from a 2005 privatization. Resolving that dispute could help make future privatization tenders more appealing.

Little noticed amid headlines about terrorist horrors and slowed economic growth, Pakistan's benchmark stock index rose 49% in 2013. More economic good news will likely follow this year if Mr. Sharif can deliver on his privatization promise.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303448204579338...

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 2, 2014 at 5:13pm

Here's Reuters on Pakistan's ambitious privatization plan:

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Mohammad Zubair was on a cruise dinner with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Thailand when he was offered the hardest job of his life: privatizing a huge chunk of the economy while fighting resistance from the opposition and trade unions.

When the prime minister left the table, a colleague of former IBM executive Zubair rushed to his side.

"Are you mad? Three privatization ministers have gone to jail and most have corruption cases hanging over their heads," he said. "Don't take this job."

But Pakistan's new privatization tsar is determined to find buyers for 68 public companies, most of them loss-making, including two gas companies, an oil company, about 10 banks, the national airline and power distribution companies - all within the next two years.

The government sees the sell-offs as a life saver for Pakistan's $225 billion economy crippled by power shortages, corruption and militant violence. Successful privatization is Sharif's top political and economic goal.

"We lose 500 billion rupees ($5 billion) annually because of failing enterprises," Zubair told Reuters. "Every day a file lands on a bureaucrat's desk and he has to take a decision he isn't qualified to. This can't go on, no matter what."

Pakistan can raise up to $5 billion in privatization revenue in the next two years to ease pressure on strained public finance, Zubair said.

Last September, the International Monetary Fund saved Pakistan from a possible default by agreeing to lend it $6.7 billion over three years. In return, Pakistan must make good on a longstanding promise to privatize loss-making state companies.
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Asad Umar, an opposition lawmaker and former chief executive of one of Pakistan's largest conglomerates, said privatization was being pursued on an unrealistic time frame and the criteria for identifying entities was inconsistent.

For Umar, it makes no sense that on the list with a bleeding airline are Oil and Gas Development Co. Ltd and Pakistan Petroleum Ltd , which made profits of 91 billion and 42 billion rupees respectively in 2013, and have zero debt.

Not all sell-offs are expected to go smoothly.

A nine-year dispute between the government and Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates' largest telecoms firm, over payments from the privatization of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd, is seen as a discouragement for investors.

But Zubair says no plan is without risk.

"There is no magic wand to ensure that all these ventures will be successful," he said. "But the bottom line is that I'm not going to hold off privatization for anyone."

http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCABREA110M520140202

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 18, 2014 at 8:01am

Here's a WSJ story on progress in Pakistan privatization:

Pakistan expects to complete a series of large privatization transactions this spring, the country's finance minister said....

In addition to billions of dollars in revenue from state asset sales, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which came to power in June, is also looking for as much as $5 billion from auctioning off third- and fourth-generation mobile-phone licenses, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told The Wall Street Journal. Another plan in the works is to split into two companies the loss-making flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines Corp. PIAA.KA +0.37% , ahead of selling a stake, he said.

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The economy has since shown signs of reviving, even though growth barely keeps up with the birthrate. The IMF this month acknowledged the tentative turnaround, especially in the large-scale manufacturing and services sectors, and raised its forecast for gross domestic product growth this fiscal year to 3.1% from the previous estimate of 2.8%. The government is much more optimistic, expecting growth of some 4.4%.

"I am quite happy and satisfied that things are moving the way they should be. We are right on track," Mr. Dar said. "We are pursuing and taking the most difficult decisions, a few of which are politically unpopular. But, to fix the economy, those stabilizing measures as well as structural reforms were necessary."

In part because of interference by the country's activist judiciary, which questioned a number of government appointments, reforms have been relatively slow so far, especially on the privatization front, many critics say. Soon after taking office, Mr. Sharif's government pledged to sell stakes in 31 state-owned companies. Many of these, however, are still in the process of selecting new management teams.

"It's all entangled in this sense of going cautiously, which in turn has adverse impact as far as economic expectations are concerned," said Ishrat Hussain, the director of the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi and a former governor of Pakistan's central bank. "The investors don't see anything happening of a dynamic, vibrant nature. If they see a few privatization transactions successfully completed, they will bring in their money and invest. They are waiting for privatization to take place before they go for greenfield projects."
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"The government is very keen on privatization, but I'm of the opinion that it will lose a lot of political capital on it," said Hussain Dawood, a tycoon with interests in the fertilizers, chemicals and power industries. "There is going to be a political backlash because all sorts of people have vested interests."

This backlash, however, isn't necessarily insurmountable. "When there are privatizations, you can't satisfy all the participants," said Mr. Siddiqui of JS Bank. "But if the will is there to privatize, and the intention is to do it in a transparent manner, they should not be afraid of criticism."
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In addition to privatizations, the government is planning to raise money this fiscal year through the long-delayed sale of 3G and 4G mobile spectrum. Pakistan is the only major country in the region that still doesn't have 3G service—overtaken even by war-torn Afghanistan to the north.

The government has yet to decide whether to auction off just 3G, or 3G and 4G spectrum together, Mr. Dar said. Selling just 3G licenses could raise between $1.2 billion to $2 billion, and bundling them with 4G spectrum could generate between $4 billion and $5 billion, Mr. Dar estimated. He added that the government is considering issuing more licenses on top of the four cellular providers that currently operate in Pakistan....
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304899704579390...

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 18, 2014 at 9:22am

Pakistan's federal government and Sindh provincial government are close to a deal with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to finance a modern mass transit system befitting the megacity of Karachi with a population of nearly 20 million, according to a Pakistani TV Channel.

The mass transit project will feature modern trains with automatic signalling and telecommunication system. An automatic train control (ATC) system will be set up. The train stations will feature computerized ticketing and vending machines, automated ticket gates and elevators. It will be run by Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC).


http://www.riazhaq.com/2014/02/japan-to-finance-and-build-modern-ma...

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 18, 2014 at 9:35pm

LAHORE: Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique has said Chinese investment and supply of coal will play a significant role in boosting performance of Pakistan Railways.

Addressing a news conference in Lahore‚ he said China will invest 32 billion dollars in Pakistan. Out of this amount‚ four billion dollars investment will be made in Pakistan Railways.

He said no recommendation regarding privatization of the Railways is under consideration.

The minister said private investment will be welcomed in Pakistan Railways through a transparent manner.

He said steps are underway to utilize Railways land in a proper way.

http://paktribune.com/news/China-to-invest-4-bln-in-Pakistan-Railwa...

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