Interview with Mr Majyd Aziz – President, Employers Federation of Pakistan
Mr Majyd Aziz is head of his family business group that is involved in textiles, commodities, shipping, and cargo handling, etc. He is President of Employers’ Federation of Pakistan and was recently elected as the first President of South Asian Forum of Employers. He is a Substitute Member of Governing Body of ILO (International Labor Organization). He is former Member of Board of Directors of the government-owned Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited and former Chairman of the government-owned SME Bank Ltd. He is a former president of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, former chairman of SITE Association of Industry, and former director of KESC and SITE Ltd. He is also Senior Advisor for Pakistan for Transnational Strategy Group, based in Washington. Besides these, he is the Founding Governor of National Center for Dispute Resolution, Secretary General of English Speaking Union of Pakistan, Member Board of Governors of Sindh Technical Educational and Vocational Training Authority, Marine Cadet College, Preston University and Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, as well as founder of many Bilateral Business Forums. He has the honor to represent Pakistan at various international forums and he is Honorary Citizen of Houston as well as Austin, Texas, USA.
PAGE had an exclusive conversation with Mr Majyd Aziz regarding Pakistan Day, the excerpt are as follows:
Pakistan Day, as well as Independence Day, are not just two days to stay away from work and business but are days to contemplate what the motherland has given us. I am very passionate about my country and wherever I go, in Pakistan and to foreign countries, I ensure that I promote and project Pakistan. Any citizen who downplays the potential of Pakistan or has no qualms about presenting a negative picture of Pakistan to foreigners is not doing service to his country. Pakistan Day, for example this year, I have been sending emails and WhatsApp messages to my foreign friends and businessmen highlighting the progress made by Pakistan. I have been informing them about CPEC, about the resilience of the citizens, about the sights and sounds of Pakistan and answering their queries, trying to change their misconceptions and perception about what is happening in Pakistan. I felt very emotional and patriotic when an Indian businesswoman remarked that in her entire life she hated Pakistan and considered Pakistanis as the worst kind of people. However, she said, “after meeting you, hearing from you, and understanding you, I have changed my thinking about Pakistan and now I want to visit Pakistan”. Pakistan Day rekindles the passion in me that I am citizen of a great nation.
A country that is on the avenue of development cannot succeed unless there is positivity in certain criteria.
The first and foremost criterion is visionary, passionate and honest leadership. This is most important because a leader provides the vision and then ensures that the vision becomes a reality. We have, sadly, not achieved this as far as my memory goes. We have grossly suffered the penchant of our political leaders to promote nepotism, cronyism, and self-indulgence. This “disease” will not go away for many years.
The second criterion is that private sector must be given a free hand, a real time environment of laissez-faire, with minimum interference by government officials. There should be an end to discretionary powers of bureaucracy, especially those in the lower hierarchy. There is hardly any businessman or industrialist who does not want to expand his or her business. Why would someone use unofficial or clandestine modes of transfer of wealth to foreign shores if there were profitable opportunities at home? Why would their wealth take refuge in offshore accounts? Why would there be a scenario of distrust for the government or governmental machinery? All these are ramifications of the inconsistency of policies, political and bureaucratic interference, long suffering wait for judicial decisions, browbeating and blaming private sector for the ills of society, failure to improve and maintain a secure and safe law and order environment, and bad governance.
The third important criterion is ownership of the policies by the citizens. The success of China has a lot to do with this concept. Alas, even excellent policies of one government are generally shelved by the incoming government and thus many progressive policies and projects lose steam once there is a change in government. The private sector repeatedly demands a Charter of Economy, a long-term action plan to guide the nation on the road to economic prosperity. But, there is no consensus among politicians to be on the same page. Instead, every government comes up with grandiose plans, routinely fudges economic figures and statistics, and takes the country on the path of overloaded foreign and domestic debt. Despite these, it is commendable that the Armed Forces have made huge sacrifices to tackle the burgeoning menace of terrorism and extremism in the country. The co-called democratic dispensation has been responsible for not taking the bull by the horn. The improvement in the law and order situation resulted in the advent of CPEC. However, various segments of the country still do not own CPEC, and this is a serious situation.
In my opinion, the major blame lies with government of the day for its inability to share the conditionalities and protocols of the CPEC agreement. This is the bane that ruins progressive plans. Why is the government so reluctant to be transparent? The government ministers should look towards the future. CPEC is rightly called a game changer, and in my opinion, the game changer means that CPEC would eventually be the frontrunner for mega investments by other foreign countries. 70 years of drifting on the economic ocean will end and CPEC sort of initiatives will definitely lead to a scale up of the nation’s economy and prosperity. I believe that as an industrialist and businessman, my priority is to invest and work in my own country. It does not mean that we should not go global. My point is that Pakistan provides golden opportunities and despite infrastructure shortages, bureaucratic roadblocks, negative image of the nation, terrorism and extremism, the future is bright for Pakistan.
Let us look towards our neighbors. Are we comfortable with them or they with us? China, Iran, Afghanistan and India surround us. We should understand their economic dynamics. We should accept their way of bilateral trade with us. We should take the first step to create an enabling environment for trade and investment. The sad fact is that except for China, and that too on Chinese terms, we have seen trade and investment hostage to the belligerence, the negativity, the distrust, the diplomatic fiasco, the wobbling foreign policy and the roadblocks for trade and investment to move ahead. Business is being sacrificed blatantly with our neighbors.
Pakistan-Afghan trade is on a dip and reliance is on informal trade. Pakistan-Iran trade went down due to the UN economic sanctions on Iran. Indo-Pak trade could have grown by leaps and bounds but due to the chauvinistic jingoism and antagonism of New Delhi, trade has suffered. China-Pakistan trade is tilted towards China and there is no upsurge in Pakistani exports despite FTA. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan would have created investment opportunities for Pakistani businessmen and there could have been substantial exports to Afghanistan. Sadly, a spanner has been inserted in this. Thus, we are one nation that has not been able to enjoy the fruits of border trade and investment. This, unfortunately, will be the status quo for some years, notwithstanding any positive breakthrough.
What is required and what is imperative is a National Business Agenda to remove the economic dark clouds. Exports are stagnant, although there has been an increase in the last few months. Imports are scaling up. The Rupee is under tremendous pressure and recently, we had the second market-based or engineered devaluation. Every drop in the Rupee adds to the external debt obligations. A country that is deep in the quagmire of a $90 billion external debt has no strategy to handle the repayments. There is talk about again knocking on the doors of international financial institutions with a bigger begging bowl.
This is the time to get the private sector on board. Advisor of Finance Miftah Ismail declared that Federal Budget 2018-19 would be a technocratic budget rather than bureaucratic budgets of yore. The only budget that can bring sanity is a businessman’s budget. We keep talking about the cost of doing business, we keep mentioning the ease of doing business, and we keep on harping the tune that we need to get rid of grueling rules, regulations and archaic laws that are still on the statute books that are hampering growth and discouraging investment. But who will bell the cat?
No political party has a game plan, short-term and medium term. One party wants to privatize Pakistan Steel and PIA while the other party threatens civil disobedience. Why? Because the workers are political appointees. To hell with hemorrhaging of scarce national financial resources. As long as the lazybones in these and other state organizations are getting a free lunch, there is no need to rock the boat. The topmost priority is to put maximum efforts to increase exports. I do not mean just textile or leather exports. Get out of the box. We have huge mineral resources that have a ready global market. We have an agriculture base that can bring in millions of dollars. We have ways and means to go for import substitution. We have the inertia to find more global markets. What we do not have is an export mindset. Is there any country whose Finance Ministry sits tight on tax refunds? Is there any government in the world that encourages importers and comes down heavy on exporters? Is there any nation that over burdens exporters with taxes, duties and charges? We do not have to look far. All these are the handiwork of those sitting in Islamabad in their comfy offices. Change has to come from within and change has to come now. Just relying on non-transparent, suspicious and politically motivated Amnesty Schemes are nothing but ad hoc solutions. There will not be dollars and cents coming in. This will encourage many honest taxpayers to start diverting their assets into the undocumented sector and wait for another such scheme. For crying out loud, this will not improve the economy.
In my opinion, the private sector is the real ambassador of the country. It is we who go head-on to present a positive image of the nation. We fight the battles through our products, our strategies, and our behavior. There is a need to form a National Council comprising businessmen, media, and pillars of society to develop an action plan to promote the country, the people, the heritage and the resources. Foreigners rarely believe government representatives because they have seldom attempted to present the true picture of the motherland.
Recently, we at Employers Federation of Pakistan prevailed upon employers organizations in South Asia to come to Karachi. We took them on a guided tour of the city, we showed them the sights of Karachi, the vibrancy and energy of Karachi, and we encouraged them to relish the local cuisine. Initially, they were reluctant to come, declaring that every third person wears a suicide jacket and every fifth person brandishes a Kalashnikov. Their total perception of Karachi changed overnight and some were wishing that they should have stayed a few days more. This is how to change the negative image into a positive image. The resolution on Pakistan Day should be that it is time to be united. And for all of us, it is always Pakistan First.