Aug 31 - Sep 06, 2009

S. M. MUNEER is a popular name in the trade and industry circles because of his services for the cause of business community and the economy of Pakistan for the last thirty years.

In an interview while discussing the food price hike which was engineered by creating artificial shortage by the profiteers, SM Muneer declined to touch the political side of the story, suggesting that chains of all major departmental stores either Pakistani or multinational should be bestowed with the status of utility store so that the distribution system could be streamlined in an organized way.

The growing consumer market in Pakistan has attracted a number of multinational cash & carry stores in all major urban centers and even in smaller towns, which is a clear indication of market strength in Pakistan and a good sign and will pave the way for attracting foreign investment in future as well.

These International chains of departmental stores have addressed various concerns of the consumers especially in Pakistan, which is suffering from the nuisance of violation of intellectual property rights, as the markets are flooded with forged products under the garb of genuine trademark. People visiting these stores rest assured that what they are buying is genuine and prices are not inflated out of proportion.

Despite having an awesome profile spread over every segment of trade and industry from leather industry to textile industries, from financial services to education sector, he commands a down to earth personality and knows the art of conversation that is the secret of his success story.

S.M. Muneer by nature has a knack to deal with the issues amicably without losing calm at any edge of the situation. He is chairman of one of the biggest business groups known as Din Group of Industries including Din Leather (pvt) Ltd.

The leading exporting company of finished leather in Pakistan Din Leather has most modern tanning unit in Karachi with annual turnover of about Rs. 1.4 billion. (US$23 million)

Din Textile Mills Ltd. one of the leading exporters of different types of valued added Yarns has three most modern spinning units in Lahore (total 61,728 spindles) to produce very high quality value added yarns. Total annual turnover is about Rs.2.7 billion (US$43 million). He is also Vice Chairman MCB BANK LTD.

While discussing the current economic situation, Muneer said he foresaw a silver lining on the economic front of the country in the backdrop of sign of improvement in the global economy. Pakistan should benefit the trickle down effects of the economic turnaround, taking place on the global front.

However to take advantage of the global situation we have to put our home in order first, he said and mentioned certain areas for which immediate corrective measures are required to produce the desired results. Some of the areas where he feels immediate steps are needed include high interest rates which are a major hurdle in they way of a vibrant economy.

When his attention was drawn towards the IMF conditions under which the interest rate, exchange rate, electricity and petroleum prices have to be determined and which especially emphasize on a tight monetary stance to contain inflationary pressures, S.M Muneer did not agree to the idea of containing inflation by keeping high interest rate. He lamented the export performance of the last financial year in which Pakistan failed to achieve export target of $22 billion with a shortfall of $4billion. This year too it looks hard to reach the goal of $27 billion mainly because of high cost of financing, unaffordable petroleum and electricity prices, he maintained.

Replying to a remark that beggar cannot be chooser and since Pakistan borrowed money from IMF it has to take care of the instructions of the international donor agency, SM Muneer with a smile on his face said that as a matter of fact there was no need to run after IMF for money. Instead, we should focus on our own resources. For instance, last year Pakistani workers remitted around $8 billion, which according to Muneer, are only 40 percent of the total potential.

Pakistanis abroad can remit at least $20 billion a year if they are given a small incentive of 2 percent more than the inter-bank rate in Pakistan. If we are not penny wise, pound foolish we should offer two per cent more than the inter bank rates and you would see a flow of home remittances like a hill torrent and that would leave no room for borrowing from any international donor agencies. He said that the recent scheme announced by the Central Bank for boosting the home remittances does not carry weight and may not produce positive results as the scheme more often than not emphasizes on quick and smooth banking services only.

Actually to counter the Hundi or Hawala system we have to offer some tangible offers to overseas Pakistanis and if we really want to beat the unofficial channels for remittances, it is necessary.

S.M Muneer who is basically an optimistic has great hopes about the future of this country. He said economic managers would have to play their due role undaunted of the challenges and difficulties to produce results. He said that fortunately we have a financial minister in the form of Shaukat Tarin who has the potential to steer our economy from hot waters because irritants, hurdles and bottlenecks cannot weaken his resolve whenever he decides to achieve results.

Not only the finance minister but the entire government should take the electricity crisis as a serious matter which is eroding the confidence of the investors, depriving export oriented industries to deliver orders while the abrupt load shedding even during the holy month of Ramazan is sending extremely bad signals about Pakistan as a place of doing business and investment.

Though Raja Pervez Ashraf minister for power has claimed that the menace of load shedding will be eliminated by December 2009, yet it looks impossible with an exception that he has a magic wand in his hand to cope up with the chronic issue of electricity in such a short period, he remarked.

He regretted that much of time was lost due to excessive politicization of the economic projects like construction of dams in Pakistan. Our economic constraints call for construction of dams, which is the cheapest source of generating electricity as well as providing fuel to agriculture sector in the form of irrigational waters.

He strongly opposed the withdrawal of subsidy on electricity whether IMF agrees to this or not because electricity price in Pakistan is the highest in the region while the average per capita income is the lowest. You cannot persecute the economy and the common man only to please the donor agencies. We have to make decisions in accordance with our own conditions.

He also agreed with the suggestion that the provinces should be given at least economic autonomy to decide their economic needs like electricity. It is against the spirit of free economy to keep the provinces running from pillar to post for getting permission to set up a power plant of more than 50 megawatt. What a fun, under such a bureaucratic culture how you can expect desirable economic growth in the country.

Regarding exchange rate depreciation which is again highest in the region, he said that currently the rupee parity against dollar is around Rs83 which is slipping down unabatedly. He expressed his fear that if the rupee slid down to the level of 90 it would have a disastrous effect on the economy and would have invited a flood of price inflation in the country. Hence, it is the time that the government and the state bank should intervene to inject some stability in the rupee value, he recommended strongly.