SC asks Air Marshal Arshad Mehmood Malik to choose between PAF & PIA, says he cannot hold two posts
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday declared Air Marshal Arshad Mehmood Malik’s appointment as head of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) “illegal”, saying he could not hold two posts at the same time.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had clubbed Air Marshal Arshad Malik’s plea, seeking stay against a Sindh High Court (SHC) order restraining him from working as PIA CEO, with a suo motu case pertaining to the national carrier’s privatization.
On January 22, the bench had rejected Malik’s appeal and questioned the appointment of four air vice marshals, two air commodores, three wing commanders and one flight lieutenant in the national carrier.
“Arshad Mehmood Malik should resign from the air force and permanently join PIA. Only one thing can be done, either work in PAF or PIA,” remarked the chief justice of Pakistan.
The court noted that the national airline required a “permanent chairman” who can run it along professional lines and make it profitable.
The court asked Malik to submit a definite answer by the next hearing which will be in the first week of March.
When Barrister Salman Akram Raja, representing the PIA’s board of governors told the court that former Air Marshal Nur Khan had also worked for the national carrier, the chief justice remarked that “they were big people and should not be compared to anyone”.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said that if the court accepted the advocate’s argument, stating that if “the union employees would not let PIA function unless there was the stick of the army”, then the government “should close all its offices”.
The SC also rejected PIA’s report about the mysterious sale of an Airbus plane owned by the national flag carrier in 2017, observing that it had only conducted a “paper investigation” into the matter.
The court directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to continue its investigation into how the plane was sold.
During the hearing on Thursday, PIA’s counsel Salman Akram Raja, said an earlier decision to sell an aircraft was taken by then CEO Bernd Hildenbrand when the court asked for details of the sale.
“The plane was used for a movie shoot in Malta before being parked at a German airport. We were paid €210,000 for it.”
The chief justice termed ‘grave’ the reports of the plane being lent to an Israel production company. He also noted that the cost of flying and parking the plane in Germany exceeded its selling price. Raja told the apex court that the PIA board was reviewing why the plane was parked at a German airport for so long.
Justice Gulzar remarked that the national carrier had grounded four planes and details of three were still missing. “Should we allow the current management to operate in such a scenario?” he observed and added that PIA transactions only exist on paper.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) informed the bench that the PIA board was concealing details regarding the missing plane and sought time to further probe the matter. Emphasising on the bureau’s repetitive request to seek time, the top judge directed it to continue the investigation.
The bench noted that a deputed armed force officer should not be leading a national organisation. Raja argued that a retired air marshal was locked in his office by the PIA union.
However, Justice Shah observed that Raja’s argument painted an abysmal picture of the State’s writ. “Are you saying the union will not let PIA function if there is no fear of the armed forces?” he questioned.
The top judge noted that the Pakistan Steel Mills was also taken over by an acting army officer but showed no signs of improvement. “The PSM is posting loss every year.”
The apex court agreed that the national carrier should be run professionally and its facilities should not be misused.
“Malik should either relieve himself as a PAF officer or give up PIA post,” remarked the chief justice. He noted that PIA will be left without leadership if the air marshal was called on duty. “This appointment shows the federal government’s lack of seriousness.”
Accepting Malik’s counsel Naeem Bukhari’s request to deliberate over the matter, the bench adjourned hearing till March.