An interview with Majyd Aziz, President KCCI

SADAF AURANGZAIB, Senior Correspondent
Apr 09 - 15, 2007

Majyd Aziz, President Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), was interviewed by PAGE with a focus on the development and significance of I.I. Chundrigar Road as a financial hub of Pakistan.

PAGE: Would you like to outline a brief history of I.I.Chundrigar Road, what importance it bears on the map of history?

MA: Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar Road or I.I.Chundrigar Road could be considered as the financial artery of Pakistan. Situated in the heart of Karachi, it was known as McLeod Road during the colonial rule but it was later renamed after Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar, who was the first Commerce Minister of Pakistan. The British realized the importance of Karachi as port city, thereby setting up Karachi Municipality in 1852. McLeod Road, being next to Karachi Port, several business houses and British banks, happens to be the main artery to facilitate trade, while parallel Bunder Road that houses various trading houses also provides access to the port.

PAGE: Talking of its importance in the current trade and finance scenario, no one denies its significance as major financial market is located across the road, how do you define its current importance?

MA: Karachi assumed great importance after independence, being the only port city through which 95% of Pakistan's external trade takes place. I.I.Chundrigar Road soon emerged as financial focal point of the country and facilitated trade and industry activity. It is the main financial hub of Pakistan and is rightly called Pakistan's Wall Street. Most of the large businesses and financial institutions of the country have offices on this road, including Karachi Stock Exchange, Karachi Cotton Exchange, State Bank of Pakistan, Habib Bank Plaza, MCB Tower, NBP Building, and various foreign and local banks. Pakistan's most circulated newspaper 'Jang' and other newspaper offices are also located on I.I.Chundrigar Road. Besides, wholesale markets of various products are within its periphery. Moreover, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry is just a block away.

PAGE: Now when the plans are afoot for its development to bring it to the pace where it could facilitate the upcoming projects of Twin Financial Towers and others, what major development it needs to have in order to work in accordance with the need of time?

MA: As I said earlier, I.I.Chundrigar Road is the Wall Street of Pakistan and no one can deny its significance as a financial market. Major important institutions are situated there which are engaged in international business. Many diplomats, business tycoons, and foreign business and trade delegations use to visit Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry and other institutions and they pass through the I.I.Chundrigar Road. It is the need of time that I.I.Chundrigar Road should be upgraded and beautified so that it could look like true financial street (Wall Street).

PAGE: How do you foresee its development and importance in the growing commercial and trade scenario, how do you predict it to cope with that?

MA: I.I.Chundrigar Road faces severe problems such as traffic jams, lack of space for car parking, and free flow of traffic, etc. Traffic congestion on I.I. Chundrigar Road has made it difficult to traverse. The government has developed other parts of the city for boosting trade activity and in recent years many businesses have moved to other areas such as Shahrah-e-Faisal, Clifton and Defence. But despite all this progress, importance of I.I.Chundrigar Road could never be undermined.

PAGE: The major problem that we all have while traversing through this artery is the traffic flow, the dilapidated infrastructure and unavailable parking lots. What major developments do you deem in this regard and what would you say if the traffic route is simplified by constructing an underground tube terminal from Tower to Shaheen Complex?

MA: Theoretically speaking construction of an underground tube terminal is a good idea but it is a very difficult task. Construction of an underground tube terminal from Tower to Shaheen Complex will not only take a long period and entail huge sums but could also cause huge suffering to the businesses and the commuters. There is no convenient alternate route for private transport which may cause serious problems including the closing and moving of many businesses. It may be recalled that during the construction of Clifton underpass, the shopkeepers of that area complained that 35% of their business was adversely affected.

PAGE: There are major buildings of historical significance on both sides of the road, like Standard and Chartered building, etc. Do you think they are being used properly or do you think there must be some restoration plans needed to be undertaken in this regard?

MA: You may put up this question to Karachi Building Control Authority and those involved in the preservation of national heritage. I cannot say much off-hand as I did not see Standard & Chartered Bank and other buildings from inside from this angle. However, there can be no two opinions about undertaking restoration plan for these edifices. Yes we must maintain their grandeur but if these buildings are dilapidated and may collapse then we have to re-think and keep safety and convenience in mind.

PAGE: KCCI building also bears significance as its foundation stone was laid by Gandhi. What historical importance it has and how do you see its development over the years, do you think there must be some rejuvenation plan to take up for the building?

MA: KCCI Building is in the list of national heritage and we are renovating it. We have already renovated a part of the chamber from inside and we are commencing the construction of a media center, library, accounts, and weights and measurements office from May. We already have a commitment from noted Architect Ms Yasmin Lari to clean the facade of the building and remove the pollution that has affected the beauty of this heritage. We hope to do it in June.

PAGE: Many of the buildings and offices on the I.I.Chundrigar Road have been in a dilapidated condition in terms of infrastructure, what sort of development do you think the government should take up while planning to beautify the road?

MA: CDGK has started work for the up-gradation and beautification of I.I.Chundrigar Road with the help of other stakeholders, including SBP and financial institutions operating in this area. The government should involve public-private partnership for constructing parking plazas as well as renovation and face lifting of the buildings.

PAGE: How do you see the utility network (electricity, water, sewerage, telephone) coordination in the true development of the road, how do you predict this situation?

MA: All the utility entities like KW&SB, KESC and PTCL should be taken on board from planning to implementation stage so that they do their jobs at appropriate stage and in coordination. This lack of coordination is something that we should avoid not only on this road but everywhere else.

PAGE: As many times, rains caused a standstill on the road, so what sort of precautions do we need to take in order to sort out such a situation?

MA: Rains, whether torrential or of lesser degree, play havoc with the roads and traffic. Roads of international standards should be built with fool proof drainage system to drain out rainwater in quick time. Otherwise, the beautification and upgradation of the road will be short-lived and of no avail.

PAGE: Your message to the people working on this plan?

MA: The master plan of this project should include the adjoining parallel roads and side streets where important buildings & commercial entities operate; otherwise there will be untoward spillovers. Besides, the future requirements of this growing financial and commercial center with a 25-year vision should be taken care of through public-private partnership. It should not be a fire fighting exercise to meet the immediate requirements. This city just cannot afford any more disruption.

I wish all the best to the people working on this project. Their sincere efforts will be highly appreciated and remembered. Infrastructure, especially roads of international standard, is the backbone of any metropolitan city and attracts foreign investment, facilitates trade and promotes tourism.