WASHINGTON DC, April 17, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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PIA Chairman Saeed Officially Sacked, Kirmani Named New Airline Head

By M T Butt

ISLAMABAD, April 17: As predicted by the South Asia Tribune on April 1, Chairman of Pakistan’s national airline, Choudhry Ahmed Saeed, was finally shown the door by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Saturday, April 16. Tariq Kirmani of Pakistan State Oil (Left) was also named the new PIA Chairman.

Saeed’s departure came as his frantic lobbying efforts get an extension from General Musharraf failed in the face of stiff opposition not just in the Prime Minister’s camp, but within the airline and in political circles.

The last ditch effort he made was to arrange a presentation of his successes to General Musharraf on April 16, but PM Shaukat Aziz ordered that in the absence of Musharraf, who has gone to India, he would take the presentation. When Saeed said what he had to say, Shaukat Aziz started questioning him probingly and Saeed started faltering.

The event started turning sour when Saeed understood that Shaukat would not let him get away without firing him. He then surrendered and said his resignation was already with the PM's Office to which Shaukat Aziz said his thank yous and announced than PSO's Tariq Kirmani, who has also gone to see the India-Pakistan cricket match, would be the new PIA Chairman. Till Kirmani returns, the PM Secretariat will oversee PIA affairs, it was announced.

Earlier in another desperate attempt Saeed had arranged a quiet dinner last week at the home of Musharraf’s Bridge buddy, Brig (retd) Niaz, where not only Musharraf but his close aide Tariq Aziz was also present. Aziz and Niaz, who had been instrumental in getting Saeed appointed to the job, tried their best to convince Musharraf to retain Saeed for another year, but in vain.

Saeed’s contract as Managing Director expired on April 14, but he kept clinging on in the hope that Musharraf may do something to save him. “At times Saeed even issued veiled threats saying that if he was booted out, all that had happened would be unveiled and Musharraf himself may be dragged into the massive corruption that had continued for over four years,” a source in the knowledge of the discussions of the dinner meeting revealed to South Asia Tribune.

Saeed’s tenure turned out to be a period in which PIA purchased the largest number of aircraft, sold the largest number of aircraft and awarded contracts which were neither necessary nor cost effective. Some were filthy expensive and outrageously nonsensical like changing seats of all PIA aircraft, even those where the new seats could not fit.

“It was a period in which one person enjoyed the powers of the Chairman and MD and did what he wanted, for himself and his friends, leaving the airline in massive debts and unable to meet its debt obligations without government grants,” a PIA official said.

The South Asia Tribune has published details of almost all of these shady deals, as and when they were done, with all the documentary evidence which was available. Never could the PIA Chairman deny any of these deals, nor he seemed to care, as he was backed strongly by General Musharraf and his friends who rule the country.

The biggest challenge for the incoming Chairman, Tariq Kirmani, would be how to handle the dirty mess Saeed has left behind.

It is very possible that Musharraf may have agreed to let Saeed go on the condition that the New Chairman would not dig into his misdeeds and not expose his corruption, but that would leave Kirmani with an unwanted baggage, too heavy to carry on an airline sinking under its own weight.

Yet Kirmani has the assurance that he is backed by the Prime Minister, who himself had snubbed Saeed several times in the last few months, specially after all the projections of huge profits turned out to be fake based on false promises.

Shaukat Aziz had refused to inject more money into PIA after the first shot of Rs 20 billion could not turn the airline around and Saeed misused his influence to go on a purchasing spree, often declaring publicly that he was buying the most expensive planes because he liked them and without worrying whether his airline could afford them.

PM Aziz, being a finance man himself, knew the implications of what Saeed was doing and thus when Saeed came back to him in the last few weeks for another shot of Rs 20 billion, this time through loans raised from the market on government guarantees, Shaukat Aziz said nothing doing, at least to Saeed.

But with Kirmani in the pilot’s seat, Shaukat Aziz may have to dish out more cash to PIA, just to cover up for the losses and the financial mess Saeed has left behind.

It would be interesting to see how Kirmani would justify the wrong decisions Saeed made costing the airline and the country billions. “If he does not justify those decisions, Kirmani would have to indict Saeed and put the blame where it lies before he attempts a take off. But if he says Saeed was right, then he would be in a difficult situation to keep following the same track,” a market analyst said in Karachi.

More interesting would be the fate of the gang of cronies Saeed had gathered around himself after throwing out the cream of motivated professionals from all departments. “The three poor but rich retired colonels, who were lobbying for Saeed to save their own skins, would now be running away from the country if Kirmani replaced them, like the two top men who were eased out by Saeed weeks before his own exit,” a former PIA executive said.

Saeed was so keen on controlling all the departments which handled purchases, finances, commissions and kickbacks that he abolished the entire Purchase and Stores Department, brought the Finance Department under his direct control and negotiated all deals himself. Ultimately that annoyed the Prime Minister and his close associates and Saeed was caught in the web of his over confidence based on friendship with Musharraf’s buddies.

Another challenge for Kirmani would be how and whether he brings back the professional talent shunted out by Saeed because of his personal likes and dislikes, mostly his whims.

There are several cases of senior PIA executives who were ousted because they would never have gone with the damaging decisions Saeed and his gang. But these people were always loyal to the PIA and in many cases sacrificed their careers because they could not join those openly and blatantly working against the interests of the airline.

Some of these executives even sought legal remedies and in most of the cases won in courts, but Saeed refused to reinstate them because he thought they would create hurdles in his grand designs. Now Kirmani would have to decide who was sacked for what reason and who should be brought back.

It would be unfortunate if Kirmani covers up Saeed’s misdeeds or protects the corruption of his cronies, just because exposing all this may embarrass General Musharraf or his close friends. Even if some people have to be protected, the rape which took place with PIA has to be exposed and corrected. Otherwise replacing one yes-man with another would not mean a turn around for the airline.

View April 1, 2005 SAT Story

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