INTERVIEW WITH SALEEMUZ ZAMAN, VICE CHAIRMAN KATI
Aug 8 - 14, 2011
PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF?
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: I was born in Karachi and got my basic education from this city. After completing my masters in business administration, I joined the US Commercial Service at the American Consulate in Karachi as a Commercial Special in the year 2000. I worked there for one year and left it to join my family business of environmental services. This move was skeptically seen by my colleagues who thought it might be a bad bargain to quit a good job for family business. But, my passion was environment and my passion was business. I believed that I could do much more on my own than to work for someone with predefined tasks. After more than 10 years in business, I feel that I took the correct decision. I gained a lot more knowledge, exposure, and opportunity to take many good or bad decisions, which I feel, were the best part of my carrier. While continuing with business I also completed some related courses in environmental sciences from University of Bath, UK to further enhance my professional expertise. Today, we provide high quality environmental services to many of our customers not only across Pakistan but also in Bangladesh and UAE. A few years back, I got associated with Korangi Association of Trade & Industry, Karachi which provided me an opportunity to serve the Pakistan's business community which is in shambles these days.
I remain the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment with an additional responsibility of Vice Chairman of the association. I am married with a small family and I thank Allah to have given me almost everything I wanted. Subject to Allah's will, my carrier aims include expanding the business to different horizons and bringing up my children in a way that they become responsible citizens and contribute positively to the development of my beloved country Pakistan.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON MONETARY POLICY?
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: The current monetary policy in Pakistan is extremely unsupportive for businesses. Most unacceptable part is the interest rate, which I believe that government should bring down. We are in a state that due to multiple factors we have seen significant decline in investment and business activities. These factors include increasing production costs, law and order situation, power crises and you name it. In these circumstances, the government needs to come up with policies which encourage business activities.
Very recently there has been a slight decrease in the interest rate to 13.5 per cent from 14 per cent which is still much higher than the world average. In fact, if I am not wrong, we had the World's highest interest rates in 2010. The interest rates in Pakistan should be in single digit and much lower as compared to other countries. For the development of a country, foreign investment plays a very important role, but unfortunately at the moment, we don't have much to even attract the local investors. Many industries have shifted to various other countries.
We need to take serious measures and come up with policies, which attract investment both foreign and local. A basic cause of terrorism and law and order disorders is unemployment and lack of education. If we have to face these challenges, then we will have to increase the industrial activities and for that we must reduce the discount rates so that borrowing increases and subsequently the industrial activity.
PAGE: WHAT MUST BE DONE TO REDUCE COST OF DOING BUSINESS IN PAKISTAN?
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: To rescue the business activities in Pakistan, we will definitely have to reduce the cost of doing businesses here. I feel that we need both short-term and long-term policies. For short-term we need to realize that cost of not doing anything is the highest.
The government should firstly ensure the uninterrupted availability of basic utilities like gas and electricity at the minimum possible rates. I understand that drastic decline in rates is not possible overnight but at least we will have to ensure the regular supplies of gas and electricity at rates comparable with our neighboring countries. This should not just be the end and for long-term we need to develop a 5-year, 10-year and 20 year plan of activities which may include construction of dams, coal based power plants, nuclear power plants, alternative energy projects and other cheaper options to provide utilities at the minimum possible rates. In addition to supply of utilities at the cheapest possible rates, we need to develop and retain work force. Today in Pakistan, despite of massive unemployment, we are not able to find suitable candidates. Almost every institution has trained work force issues because those with experience or knowledge are either too expensive to hire or they get attractive international offers. I do not mean to say that we should impose a restriction on our people to work outside the country, but we need to develop attractive conditions within our country so that people are themselves inclined to live in Pakistan despite of attractive international offers. And believe me if we just provide good law and order conditions and provide basic facilities to our people here, then people will not even think of going abroad. There is a lot of attraction in our soil and many people who live abroad still want to come back but are afraid of the law and order crises.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN PAKISTAN?
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: Investment opportunities in Pakistan are tremendous. We are a country gifted with so many natural blessings like minerals, oil, gas, fertile soil and if we talk about natural beauty we have sea, desert, mountains, rivers etc. It's just a commitment that all of us need to show towards our country including the individuals and the government. I am very hopeful that this temporary wave of terrorism and lawlessness will be over soon and we will be able to capitalize on the tremendous investment opportunities. We are a country with talented people, fertile soil, strategic location, and access to port. We just need to make use of these God gifted features. We have good investment opportunities in infrastructure development, specialized technology/products development, value addition, introducing advanced agriculture techniques etc. Not only industrial or commercial activities, Pakistan has un-tapped market of tourism which has a tremendous potential. In future, I see many airports in Pakistan where direct international flights will bring tourist to various parts of Pakistan for eco-tourism and the majestic spots of natural beauty gifted to us by Allah.
PAGE: YOUR COMMENTS ON INFLATION IN PAKISTAN.
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: Inflation in Pakistan is as high as 19 per cent as compared to eight per cent in India and six per cent in China. This is taking us to a state where we will not be able to compete in the international market. This level of inflation gives birth to multiple trade and social problems. Many factors have contributed to the high inflation levels in Pakistan. This includes printing excessive currency notes, borrowing from IMF, and increasing POL prices etc. I would strongly recommend the government to stop printing currency notes which currently is a major factor contributing towards inflation.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT IMPACT OF LAW AND ORDER SITUATION ON INDUSTRIALIZATION?
SALEEMUZ ZAMAN: Worsening law and order situation has significantly contributed to the economic downfall of Pakistan. As I mentioned earlier, Pakistan is a place where people want to live by choice. It's just that the government needs to provide basic necessities and obviously safety and security is on top of the list. Incidents like those happening in Karachi are good enough for any investor to leave the country. And, to be precise many of the local investors have actually flown out of the country and migrated to nearby countries who offer good security conditions and an attractive business climate. On an average due to bad law and order situation, Karachi closes for minimum 3-4 extra days in a month, which contributes to almost 15 per cent of a month with 26 working days. This is in addition to the non-business friendly monetary policies, unavailability of utilities like electricity and gas, and high inflation rates which are already contributing towards de-industrialization in Pakistan.
In Karachi, there have been frequent incidents of kidnapping, extortion, and killings which have forced many people to think of moving out their business to countries which provide good business environment. Moving out of one industrial unit means unemployment for thousands of direct employees and not to mention a much higher number of support businesses, which are also badly affected. I salute the business community of Pakistan which has been continuing with dedication in this environment when things are getting worse every day.
If we have to come out of the economic crisis, the government will have to ensure a healthy and secure environment for businesses which will increase industrialization, economic activities and attract foreign investment into the country which is the need of the day.