"...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.