Prime Minister Imran Khan deserves appreciation for taking cognizance of deterioration in the aviation sector in Pakistan, as well as for taking the first most important step by appointing the right person as the Secretary Aviation Division. The Aviation Division oversees the functioning of various Departments and Corporations associated with aviation and is also responsible for formulation of aviation policy besides regulation through the Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan.
Historically there have been problems of coordination and management between the Operational Departments in the field and the distant but controlling Federal Government Ministry be it the MOD or the Aviation Division. Lack of coordination was not the rule but occasionally whenever it happened it jeopardized the functioning of the Operational Unit. In 1997 while Mr. Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Aminullah Choudhry was appointed as the DG CAAP and to ward of the issue of coordination between the MOD and the Regulatory body he came up with a novel solution and in his wisdom vested Mr. Aminullah Choudhry with the dual responsibility of Additional Secretary Aviation in the MOD. Though it was an absurd administrative dichotomy, but at grass root level, CAA the Regulatory Body was in a most comfortable position. Such arrangements are neither the norm nor a panacea for resolving issues of coordination between various Government set ups but they do bring to fore the fact that in the absence of perfect coordination it is always the field set ups that suffer entailing service delivery problems to the general public.
The last Government pulled out the Aviation Division from the juggernaut of Ministry of Defence to give it space for independent and focussed functioning. However, the first Aviation Policy drafted and invoked by the Aviation Division, to say the least, proved to be a travesty of good business practices and was considered by the private sector as the most business-unfriendly policy. It doesn’t take long for such monumental follies to come to fruition and we have sadly witnessed the exit of most of the major International Airlines from Pakistan. CAA is sitting over a gold mine for generation of revenue through non-aviation commercial activity as well, but the complacence and non-professional commercial approach has discouraged national as well as International concessionaires to develop the multi-million dollar real estate of CAA. Though the defective Aviation policy alone cannot be apportioned the major blame for this devastating result but it did add to the problem of demotivation and lack of trust and confidence in the systems of Pakistan.
Nevertheless, it is never too late to revisit and review the blunders committed in the past and redraft an Aviation Policy that is not only business-friendly for the domestic as well as International entrepreneurs but also lays down foundation for manifold increase in revenue earning capacity of this important but neglected sector. Facilitation for use of all the aviation facilities including but not limited to the airports, by the end user passengers, must take top priority.
An objective review of history indicates that CAA was once upon a time one of the best managed organisations earning millions of dollars in FCY and local Rupees. The decadence was gradual specially post 1980, but it took a steep slide after 2006. History of management is replete with instances where one bad and ill-conceived decision has spelt demise of even the strongest of Corporations. One such decision was taken by Gen Pervez Musharraf by appointing Mr.Farooq Rehmatullah from corporate sector as DG CAA. This gentleman had no back ground and experience in aviation and started experimentation shaking the bedrock foundation of CAA. Superfluous departments and Sections were created to accommodate expensive managers on exorbitant unjustified salaries on the pretext of giving it a corporate culture. He spent millions of rupees on reorganization that created more bottle necks in smooth running of the affairs of CAA instead of creating healthy environments. The down slide took another steep dip from year 2012 and continued till 2018 due to posting of incompetent and non-professional persons on key appointments. Had CAA not been a revenue earning machine through captive clients who pass through the territorial airspace of Pakistan, it would have filed bankruptcy ten times over.
As if this was not enough, in March 2012 Air Marshal Khalid Choudhry was reappointed as the DG CAA after Capt Nadeem Khan Yousafzai tendered his resignation from the post. On reappointment he completed his unfinished agenda by appointing a junior most GM from engineering cadre having no experience of administration who stood at 55 positions in order of seniority, as Acting Chief Human Resource by replacing competent acting Chief HR who had hardly spent few days in that position. Massive reshuffle in CAA ensued by appointing nincompoops and non-professionals and that proved to be the last nail in the coffin of CAA.
When the situation deteriorated to the lowest ebb a constitutional petition 33/2013 was filed by Asaf Fasihuddin Vardag against illegal appointment of DG CAA Air Marshal Khalid Choudhry. Supreme Court declared it illegal ab initio in September 2013, while declaring ex DG CAA appointment illegal ab initio has noted in Para 55 that this Court in exercise of powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution has concluded that in the public interest and also to enforce their Fundamental Rights, appointments must be made on merit, lest it should cause damage to the institutions responsible for running different affairs of the Government and also generating funds for the purpose of spending on the welfare of the citizens with a view to improve standard of their life in terms of Article 9 of the Constitution.
If there is a corruption and corrupt practices on account of appointment of the concerned functionaries, including in pursuance of unlawful exercise of power by causing loss in running of the affairs of public institutions, the citizens are bound to be affected directly or indirectly. Therefore, their fundamental rights under Article 9 of the Constitution are not enforced in letter and spirit. It is in this back drop of Supreme Court decision Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has created history by negating the spirit of the judgment of the Supreme Court by appointing a very junior officer in Human Resource who stood at 55 number in seniority have damaged the basic structure of CAA by misguiding new DG CAA who was ignorant about the culture of CAA. He had not only appointed junior officers on senior appointments but also made 11 acting directors by ignoring senior experienced officers of CAA.
Since the appointment of DG was annulled therefore all decisions taken by him were deemed to be illegal and should have been reversed but no such action was taken by the competent authority. Even strong recommendation to FIA to probe massive corruption that had taken place in the construction of New Islamabad Airport did not see the light of the day. When corruption is documented in that case people are to be punished. The greater damage and corruption occurred due to posting of non civil engineers as Project Directors for Islamabad Airport. Since no one was punished things kept deteriorating. Attack on Karachi Airport on 8 Jun 2014 in which 21 people were killed but no proper enquiry was conducted as a result people responsible were not taken to task but were awarded higher posts.
The present Secretary Aviation is a thorough professional having robust works experience and initial roots in Pakistan Air Force. The Secretary Aviation has to carry out reforms and take revolutionary steps to put the house in order. He must appoint a committee to go in to all the happenings and probe period from November 2012 to 2018 and allow maximum 3 months to complete the enquiry. It is true that some of the decisions must have been approved by the CAA Board. However even the CAA Board is not vested with un bridled arbitrary authority and there are limitations under the rules of business and law. Those who damaged the structure of CAA must be held accountable so that it proves deterrent for future.
All illegal promotions granted through manipulation of record and ACRs must be undone. Mere approval by the Board does not and cannot legitimise an illegal act. ACRs were deliberately not put up to one of the predecessor DG CAA so that he may not give his objective adverse remarks to the delinquent officers. In fact all actions were illegal as it was mainly to derive personal benefits at the cost of the competent and senior officers.
Organizations suffer when lenient view is taken by higher authorities, such flagrant violation of rules should never be overlooked.CAA has plenty of good dedicated and professional officers who can deliver. It is an established fact that CAA’s main earning is from aeronautical charges tendered by the over flights in the airspace of Pakistan. Effort should be made to bring more air lines specially those who closed their operations due to security reasons and alleged corruption in CAA. Flight Standard Directorate needs complete overhauling by appointing professional. Air Worthiness department also needs improvement. Key to success lies in merit coupled with accountability and no compromise on corruption.
Lastly it is the Air Traffic Controllers who are the mainstay of day to day operations with superb vigilance and professionalism. They are the main Revenue earners of CAA, and need to be appreciated and looked after. There is a dire need to re-vamp the Commercial Directorate to increase non-aviation revenue by imaginative utilisation of real estate of CAA. It is hoped that fresh reforms by taking revolutionary steps CAA shall emerge as one of the best Aviation Regulatory body and Management organization that is comparable internationally
The writer is a freelance
journalist and defence Analyst.