KARACHI - A corruption scandal on the purchase of new planes has forced Pakistan's national flag carrier to delay plans to buy new aircraft, a move that casts its shadow over the company's operations to fly pilgrims for the annual hajj season.
After questions raised by the local chapter of Transparency International on transparency of procurement process, and a suo-moto notice taken by the Supreme Court, the PIA has put its plan to procure new aircraft, which were supposed to be operated for the Hajj operation, in the shelve for time being, a senior official at Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), told OnIslam.net.
The PIA had bid to buy six new planes to be added to its fleet to help fly pilgrims during the hajj season.
But the Transparency International has raised questions about the bidding procedures, saying the process aimed at benefitting one particular manufacturer.
The TI said though the national flag carrier had declined to issue a tender for procurement of the new aircraft, it issued a tender in April 2012, which was manipulated and aimed at ousting the second manufacturer, the Airbus Company, from the bidding process.
The TI said the bidding process was designed in a way whereby it blatantly favored the Boeing Company, which was unfair and devoid of Public Procurement Regulations.
The Supreme Court took the suo-moto notice on the TI allegations last week and has directed the defense ministry to present a report on the bidding procedure and clarify its position on TI corruption allegations.
A PIA spokesman has denied shelving plans for buying new planes over allegations of corruption.
Procurement of new aircraft is a lengthy process, and it takes some time, Sultan Ahmed Khan told OnIslam.net.
He insisted that the airline has received no notice from the apex court so far.
The spokesman also brushed aside allegations of corruption, saying according to Public Procurement Regulations, only state or its associated organizations can object on procurement for any state-owned corporation.
An NGO has no right whatsoever to object that, he maintained.
But his argument is challenged by experts.
The TI's objections are legitimate, Javed Chaudry, a Karachi-based senior aviation expert, told OnIslam.net.
The bidding process was not at all fair. It was totally slanted in favor of one particularly company.
But the standoff is expected to cast shadow on the airline's operations to fly pilgrims to the holy lands for the annual hajj season.
Currently, the PIA has no sufficient aircraft for the Hajj operation, Chaudry, the aviation expert, said.
It's 14 aircraft are lying underground due to different reasons, therefore, it has reduced the number of flights on different international routes, and has diverted those aircraft to Hajj operation.
But, I am afraid, it too will not work out much, and the Hajjis, who are already unhappy with increase in air fares , will have to face the same (last year's) situation, he said, referring to a Rs 8000 ($90) increase in Hajj tickets for those who would be travelling under private Hajj scheme this year.
The row has already resulted in long delays in the first flight of Pakistani pilgrims on Tuesday, irking hundreds of pilgrims.
Though the PIA officially says there would be no major delays in hajj flights, airlines sources fear that the unavailability of sufficient aircraft may repeat last year's mess.
The PIA plans to operate over 200 flights through 38 aircraft to carry over 100,000 pilgrims to the holy lands in Saudi Arabia.
Around 180,000 Pakistanis will perform hajj this year.
Around 90,000 would-be pilgrims have been selected under the government Hajj scheme, while the remaining 90,000 will travel to the holy lands through private hajj scheme.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Hajj starts on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, which falls this year October 24-29.Most pilgrims come earlier to visit the holy mosques in Makkah and nearby Madinah, where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) was buried over 1,400 years ago.