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Banking system in Pakistan

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It was in 1990 when the wheel of banking sector started in reverse direction

By SHUJAT ALI BAIG
Jan 17 - 23, 2000

The trend of loan advances on political consideration and practices of professional dishonesty were at their height during 1980-90. Although the five nationalised commercial banks showed some progress in the early years of privatization because merger of small banks into a single entity and the expansion in bank operations for the benefit of the people living in the remote and rural areas of the country, yet the expansion in banking network proved counter productive later on as the branches operating in smaller areas started showing losses during 1970-80. The Pakistan Banking Council which was supposed to monitor banking sector decided to close down the operations of the bank branches running in losses which ultimately affected growth of the banking sector in 1980s as compared to the growth achieved in 70s.

It is worth mentioning that after privatization, the banking sector continued to experience the ups and downs and failed to achieve a sustainable growth rate due to excessive politicization in the financial sector.

From 1974, which was the year of privatization, and 1977 the size of the bank deposits were doubled, however this pace of growth became stagnant during 1977-80. The next five year from 1980 to '85 showed some improvement but again suffered a slow growth rate from 1985 to 1988.

A quantum jump in the oil income of the Middle Eastern countries was however an outstanding feature of the banking sector in Pakistan. As a result of that oil sector growth in the Middle East, a large number of banks were established in those countries where majority of the staff hailed from Pakistan. These banks established their branches in Pakistan also. Since majority of the staff working in these banks were Pakistanis having acquaintances with the high ups and the clientele of the upper class, they gave a tough time to Pakistani banks both at home and abroad. Due to comparatively better facilities and exclusive services provided by these banks to the clientele of the higher strata they successfully attracted huge deposits from Pakistani as well as Middle Eastern countries. Prominent among these banks were including BCCI, Middle East Bank, Bank of Oman now called Bank AlMashriq, Emirate Bank and Doha Bank and two other banks opened during that time by Bangladesh in Pakistan.

It was in 1990 when the wheel of banking sector started in reverse direction when Nawaz Sharif government privatized two public sector banks. First of them was Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) which was handed over to Mian Mansha of Lahore comparatively at a lower bid. After privatization of MCB, Hussain Lawai, a thorough professional was assigned the task as the chief executive of that bank. Unfortunately, Hussain Lawai, who had started his career from MCB, tried to have close association with the top ranking politicians in the country and allegedly pleased them by offering undue advances and violated prudential banking rules. His association with politicians of a particular party brought a stigma on his professional expertise as he was found guilty when the caretaker government came into power. Hussain Lawai somehow or the other managed to leave Pakistan.

After his leaving of the country, Mian Mansha, who was the chairman of the bank, also took over charge of the Chief Executive of the bank.

The other bank privatized by Nawaz Sharif government was the Allied Bank. It was sold to the employees and the executives of that bank. This exercise created some problems in the bank and the names of two chief executives of the Allied Bank started appearing in the newspapers off and on. They had to face some legal issues and litigations.

According to current situation, National Bank is moving towards the status of first position instead of the Habib Bank. The government in order to improve situation at Habib Bank has appointed a professional from Citibank as the president of Habib Bank. On the other hand, the United Bank which always showed remarkable profits, had to suffer losses during 1995 for the first time in its history.

The facts and figures stated above indicate that the privatized banks have shown better performance as compared to rest of the three banks running in the public sector. The better performance shown by the privatized banks are attributed to their aggressive marketing and banking policies. However some professionals are expressing doubts about sustainability of their banking operations. The patriots are of the view that the remaining banks in the public sector will not be handed over to the foreigners as a result of privatization process being carried out by the government.

The government has recently privatized the Habib Credit and Exchange Bank formerly a part of BCCI to the Al-Nayhan group of United Arab Emirates. Pakistanis have no surprise or regret over this deal. Because there were heavy stakes of Shaikh Zaid Bin Nayhan, President of UAE in the former BCCI. He tried to rescue the sinking bank when it was falling.