Pakistan to privatise all state-owned firms, except strategic enterprises: PM Sharif

Pakistan to privatise all state-owned enterprises, including Pakistan International Airlines, to tackle financial crunch and economic stability

Updated - May 14, 2024 04:42 pm IST

Published - May 14, 2024 04:41 pm IST - Islamabad

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. File

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

Cash-strapped Pakistan will privatise all state-owned enterprises, including the loss-making Pakistan International Airlines, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced on May 14, broadening the government's initial plans to make only loss-making state firms private.

The announcement to privatise state-run enterprises barring strategic ones comes a day after Pakistan started negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new long-term Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

Mr. Sharif announced this while chairing a review meeting on the privatisation process of loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), according to media reports.

During the meeting, he said that apart from strategic state-owned firms, all other enterprises — profitable or loss-making — will be privatised, Geo News reported.

Asserting that the government's job is not to do business but to ensure a business and investment-friendly environment, Mr. Sharif directed all ministries to take action and cooperate with the Privatisation Commission.

Underscoring the need for the privatisation process to be transparent, he ordered the privatisation process of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to be televised, including the bidding and other important steps. The PIA's privatisation is in its final stage, the report said.

Pakistan's ailing national flag carrier stood as the country’s third-highest public sector loss-making entity, requiring Pakistani Rs. 11.5 billion per month solely for servicing its debts.

The process of privatisation of other institutions will also be broadcast live, the report said.

A roadmap of the Privatisation Programme 2024-2029 was also presented during the meeting, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.

Ministers were informed that loss-making SOEs were to be privatised on a priority basis and that a pre-qualified panel of experts was being appointed in the Privatisation Commission to speed up the sell-off process, the report said.

Prime Minister Sharif-led government has pushed for the privatisation of several state-owned enterprises to tackle the burden on the exchequer and the prevailing financial crunch.

Previously, debt-struck Pakistan had plans to privatise only loss-making state-owned enterprises, the Dawn newspaper reported.

On May 12, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said that privatisation is necessary to achieve economic stability in the country.

"You have to move towards privatisation if you want economic stability in the country," Mr. Aurangzeb said while speaking at the Pre-Budget Conference 2024-25 here.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar said the government would limit its business only to strategic and essential SOEs under its domain and their number would be reduced from 40 after scrutiny.

Privatisation has long been on the Washington-based IMF’s list of recommendations for Pakistan, which is struggling with a high fiscal shortfall, the report said.

Pakistan narrowly averted default last summer, and the economy has stabilised after the completion of the last IMF programme, with inflation coming down to around 17% in April from a record high of 38% last May.

The country is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall, and while the external account deficit has been controlled through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2% this year compared to negative growth last year.

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