Bypassing cabinet and empowering individual is against the norms: Senator Sabir

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The Meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Privatization was held under the chairmanship of Senator Shammim Afridi here at Parliament House today.  The meeting started with a reconsideration of the bill titled” The Privatization Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021” moved by Minister for Privatization in the Senate sitting held on 23rd June, 2021.

Committee members received a detailed briefing from Ministry officials on the proposed amendments in the Bill. Senator Sabir Shah while expressing his reservations on the Bill said that” Bypassing cabinet and empowering an individual the Prime Minister is against the norms. Amendments will result in the withdrawal of collective wisdom. If we go ahead with these amendments it would set a wrong precedent”. Ministry officials answered that proposed amendments have no effect on the process of privatization. We go to the cabinet three to four times during the whole process of privatization. This is by no means limiting the powers of the cabinet. Word Government is mentioned in the Privatization Act 83 times.  We have just decided to replace the word in 4 places, which will give power to Prime Minister to make appointments in Privatization Board.  As per the existing definition of Government and Act We have to go to cabinet for even small petty tasks such as account opening. These amendments are aimed at removing these bottlenecks, informed officials from the Ministry of Privatization.  Consideration of the Bill was differed by Committee members after due deliberations.

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The committee was briefed in detail regarding the privatization of Services International Hotel, Lahore. Secretary privatization commission informed the committee members that Privatization of Services International Hotel is in the final stages and matter is to be laid before the cabinet for final approval. Bidding has taken place through an open auction. Two bidders submitted the bids for the reserved base price of 1.94 Billion. The commission received one bid higher than the reserved base price amounting to 1.95 Billion other one was below the reserved price and subsequently did not qualify.

Chairman Committee questioned the officials regarding the process of privatization as to how a bid is considered successful when a minimum number of bidders were not there for auction to which Ministry officials answered that there is no legal issue with regards to a minimum number of bidders in an open auction.

Ministry officials reiterated their stance that bidding was done as per law with complete transparency.  Senator Sabir Shah said that “It is a commercial property and we believe that reserved base price of 1.94 Billion rupees is very low”. Committee members were of the view that the issue needs to be probed further. Chairman Committee was directed to write a letter to Cabinet in order to inform them of the reservations of the committee members on the issue. It will be requested that final approval of the privatization should not be given by the cabinet pending a decision of the Senate Standing Committee. Discussion on the matter was deferred to be taken up again in the next meeting of the committee.

The committee was also briefed on the privatization of Pak-China Fertilizer Company, Haripur, KPK with regard to its present status, the outstanding amount payable to the Government, the reasoning for delay in its privatization and expected date of its functioning. Employee status and future plans of the Government for the said fertilizer company.

Secretary Privatization Commission while briefing the committee members said that “90% of the shares of PCFC were sold to M/S Schon Group vide sale agreement dated 26-05-1992, for total consideration sale price of Rupees 456.84 million. Of which 40% sale price was paid by the buyer amounting to 182.736 million rupees. The Total outstanding sale amount till August 31, 2021 is Rs. 2.8 Billion. There are multiple litigations going on regarding the fate of this property. The commission is currently perusing the case in Islamabad High Court.

Senator Fida Hussain apprised the committee members of the dismal situation on the ground in Haripur of the said property. Senator Fida Hussain lamented the lack of action from Ministry officials regarding multiple attempts of encroachment and theft of scrap worth Billions of rupees. He further expressed his discontent regarding the fate of employees who still have not received their due compensation even after 30 long years. Senator Sabir Shah also weighed in on the current status of the said property. He said that “It is our duty to protect public property and we will do whatever it takes to solve this issue”.

Chairman Committee was directed to summon Deputy Commissioner Haripur in next meeting of the committee along with complete details of the current situation on the ground. Committee also deliberated upon the idea of setting up a sub-committee in order to visit the site and take count of the alleged mismanagement.  The meeting was attended by Senators, Umer Farooq, Syed Muhammad Sabir Shah, Muhammad Qasim, Molvi Faiz Muhammad, Anwar Lal deen, Special invitee Senator Fida Muhammad and Officials from Privatization Commission.