1990, the year that will change many things for Pakistan in the years to come. PML-N takes reign of the country, injecting new hope and vigour into its people. There is a renewed sense of excitement and energy in the air with a new and popular democratic government taking over. Who knew that more than 2 decades later, many would sit and question their democratic choices, question the performance of institutions and if there is any hope for Pakistan? A seed was laid in the 1990s that has since then only given rise to corruption, nepotism and red-tapism in the country. PML-N’s political era strengthened corruption leading to a weakening governance infrastructure, depleting governmental resources and a culture of poor performance and productivity. The two biggest examples of this are Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). If you think I am being unobjective and biased by blaming a particular political party, I will leave the critics with one fact; from the 1990s till 2020, PML-N has resumed office a staggering three times. The political tenure that they enjoyed spans over a greater period, hence the major share of onus falls upon them. The decision to privatize PSM had been politically charged to the point that years later, the government continues to face resistance. To shift the focus back to PSM and PIA, we recently heard a fiery speech by Khawaja Saad Rafique. He mentioned opposing the need for privatization in the past. However, in the year 2023, he was one of the biggest advocates for privatization. They said PIA cannot afford to incur further losses or may it shut down. He spoke of reformation and restructure, of eliminating corrupt and unprofitable elements. Well, one has to clap to that but is it not too late? The only reason Pia’s privatization is being encouraged now is that there is nothing further to milk out of the organization. Its finances have dried up, the people running it has inadequate skillset and the poor performance is taking it on the brink of shutdown. Only in the first three months of the FY2023, PIA registered losses of Rs. 38 billion, a 171 percent increase from the same period the previous year 2022. While the employee per aircraft for PIA is outrageous – 29 aircrafts each with an average of 500 employees. On the other hand, the employee-to-aircraft ratio of airline giants like Emirates, Turkish and Qatar Airways have been recorded as 231, 94 and 191 respectively. According to Oxford Analytica, PIA has the highest employee-to-aircraft ratio globally. On top of it, the government continues to subsidize it for about Rs. 456 billion. While flight operations decrease, aircraft safety deteriorates, and corruption continues to plague it. One must wonder, why did it take 2 decades and these horrifying statistics to jolt the consciousness of our all “responsible” politicians? On one we have PIA and on the other, the not-so-curious case of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). The Pakistan Steel Mills on its financial books till the FY2006 reflected a healthy statement. However, its financial health started declining amidst talks of privatization. If observed closely, one will find a string of mismanagement and administrative challenges. The appointment of a head or a chairperson was delayed regardless of the fact that the organization was facing some serious management challenges. It seems that PSM was deliberately left to sink and that is what happened. This mammoth of a facility spreading over 19000 acres of land had become a loss-making machine – an organization that had paid taxes over 1 trillion in its profitable span of 3 decades. Many of us who see things in black and white would highlight the PPP era highlighting their failure to save PSM. By the end of this tenure, PSM registered losses of 118 billion rupees which increased to a staggering 200 billion rupees in 2018 or should I say by the end of PML-N tenure. In 2014, the government released a fund of 18.5 billion rupees in hopes of turning the PSM wheel back to its previous glory and increasing the production capacity to 60%. This dream was also never realized and the fund utilization remained a huge question mark. The decision to privatize PSM had been politically charged to the point that years later, the government continues to face resistance. The future of its employees and early retirements are quoted as hurdles but like most of the things wrong with our governmental infrastructure, it is only a matter of ill intention and poorly conceived political moves for personal gains. This is exactly what I meant by the seed of corruption, nepotism and red-tapism that was sown in the 1990s by PML-N. One must realize that these corrupt elements take years to take root in a system. However, once rooted, it takes real courage, intention and wisdom to get rid of. That is exactly what happened with Pakistan’s government institutions. Organizations like PIA and PSM have suffered and continue their downward trajectory because of the deep-rooted corruptions, these like the many other governmental institutions have been made inefficient and ineffective. Simply privatizing these while pushing the new management to retain employees with the same mindset will not suffice. Khawaja Saad Rafique mentioned making tough choices and harsh decisions. Perhaps, it starts with letting go of the human resources that do not match the skillset required for these institutions to grow. Privatization is preliminary. It is the need of the hour but before that, we need leadership that carries the courage to change. I do not think that our political leadership has the chutzpah to take the reformation action to that extent and right now more than wisdom we require the will to turn things around for Pakistan. The writer is Foreign Research Associate, Centre of Excellence, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, Islamabad.