INTERVIEW WITH WASEEM VOHRA, MD EASTERN ENTERPRISES
Dec 6 - 12, 2010
PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF?
WASEEM VOHRA: We are a family of businessmen and my forefathers originally came from Chiniot. They established leather manufacturing and trading businesses in Calcutta and Kanpur before the independence and ultimately migrated to Pakistan very late as they were well established. My forefathers were successful in various fields of activities and supported programmes of education, especially education for the Muslim women and also supported the Muslim League financially. They never involved in politics. However, being Muslims, they faced numerous difficulties in business and were in precarious situation in India after creation of Pakistan, they decided to migrate. We, the younger lot, grew up and studied in Karachi and after education joined family business. With hard work and honesty in business, we are now involved in manufacturing of chemicals and international trading of various industrial raw material. As for my family, I have three children: two sons and one daughter. I am a member of Defence Creek Club and served on its Executive Committee, Member of Rotary Club, Past President of Lions Club Karachi City, Member Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Ex Patron Member Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Past President Pakistan Poland Trade Forum, Executive Committee Member Pakistan Russia Business Forum and some other social organisations.
We have to face all kinds of problems of security, hurdles in business, red tapism etc. We pay our taxes honestly as we believe this is the right path for our future generations to live in our motherland that is our beloved Pakistan. As Pakistan suffered downturn in its economy so did our business. But, we feel with the strength of character and dedication markets will recover with time. Pakistan's previous growth of 6-7 percent of GDP is achievable with stable investment policies and equitable tax systems. The success and achievements of the nation will be reflected in private businesses provided there is clarity of purpose.
PAGE: HOW COULD OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS HELP PAKISTAN ATTRACT FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENTS?
WASEEM VOHRA: Firstly, I believe overseas Pakistanis are the backbone of country's economy. They have contributed tremendously by remitting almost USD800/ million per month and helped greatly in overcoming balance of payments problems of Pakistan. Pakistan's export figures for last year were about USD19.5 billion and we expect this figure will be crossed during the current fiscal despite a serious setback due to floods. Pakistan is facing many challenges including political, economic, education, security, war on terror etc. Despite these setbacks, there is scope for overseas Pakistanis to bring their wealth for investment in their own country. The only way to survival in business these days is to bring technology for manufacturing consumer goods at competitive level. For Pakistanis living abroad, it is their duty to act as ambassadors of their country and project a soft image that should be beneficial to the country. There are opportunities for investments in manufacturing food related products including dairy, bakery, small packaging, mineral water, plastics, fruits and vegetable canning, waste goods, paper, electronics, transport, construction, education, textile garments, etc. The brain drain of Pakistan must be reversed and overseas Pakistanis must come back in groups with their management expertise and experienced individuals to establish progressive business. The mistakes that were committed by overseas Pakistanis to invest in property, building lavish houses in their remote villages did not contribute to their future generations' prosperity. They must realise it is time to establish businesses of small and medium level to make them sustainable with dedication and patience. Pakistan is facing a shortage of energy which is an opening for foreign investment in a big way. Investment in power plants is required by Pakistan as this offers a good return on equity for a long period of time.
With huge deposits of coal in the Thar area Pakistan is an attractive destination for coal mining companies having experience and technology. Those foreign companies having technology to convert coal into gas must be persuaded with full vigor and patriotic thinking by all of us so that such a plant is established in this country as early as possible. The areas in Gilgit Baltistan have great potential for hydropower plants and dams with very competitive production costs.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE OUR NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES WITH PAKISTAN IN TERMS OF FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT SCENARIO?
WASEEM VOHRA: The major beneficiaries of foreign investment in our neighborhood are China and India. If we look at China, it does not need any small or medium foreign investment as the market is already saturated .The Chinese are themselves capable of huge investment in their own country as well as abroad. Therefore, Pakistan must be able to attract Chinese investments at a fast pace with dedicated marketing efforts. Our Chinese friends have always looked at our economy very favorably and have knowledge about our potential. They are in a good position now to go for investments in medium size industries such as automobile, motorcycles, tyres, tractors, agricultural machinery tools, automobile parts, chemicals, etc. Pakistani businesspersons must think of joint ventures with USA and Chinese companies to bring investment in above mentioned sectors. Overseas Pakistanis must wake up to the call of US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton saying Pakistan is the most important strategically placed country of the world. We must reap the benefits of this by promoting such business which help us overturn the difficult economic scenario we are facing today. We the Pakistani businesspersons are stakeholders of the country and must bring bright ideas to roost rather than keep knocking at the doors of politicians. The extraordinary potentials exist for overseas Pakistanis to act now not individually but in groups to form multinationals by themselves rather than waiting for others .We have a market of 300 million people which includes Afghanistan and CIS countries and our brothers in Afghanistan will soon be looking at the outside world for fast pace development of their economy. Who else other than Pakistan should be able to help them stand on their own feet in terms of industry and trade with overseas markets and access to ports and shipping. Sometime back Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that time must come when Indian businesspersons must be able to have lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. This is the strategic importance of our country whereas we must be able to create jobs for our teaming millions. Indians are investing on infrastructure in Afghanistan and establishing petrochemicals complexes in Indian Punjab realising that Iran gas pipeline will arrive at their doorsteps via Pakistan sooner than later and a ready market for their products exists in Pakistan. It is a complex but exciting scenario for our government and businesspersons to cope with turning it into a vast potential of economic development at a fast pace.
PAGE: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT COST OF DOING BUSINESS IN PAKISTAN?
WASEEM VOHRA: Pakistan rupee having been devalued by about 40 percent during last 3 years is an ample proof of our high cost of doing business. Problem is no new resources are being tapped, no mega projects are underway, and the employment situation will be getting worse. One of the main hurdles is non-equitable taxation system, which gives opportunity for corruption and misappropriation of tax payers money to those responsible to collect taxes. The continuing of smuggling and non-documentation of the economy remain as major challenges faced by the people of Pakistan since independence. Our complacency is taking us nowhere and it seems politicians do not realise that they have wasted the nation's time and money. The high cost of doing business is becoming unbearable for medium and small investors due to high price of electricity and fuel. Our depleting natural gas resource urgently needs to be refurbished without loss of time.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT POTENTIAL SECTORS FOR FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENTS.
WASEEM VOHRA: Pakistan is a virgin market for foreign direct investments and innumerable opportunities exist .The most lucrative sectors are:
1. Manufacture and assembly of mobile phones.
2. Exploration of oil and gas
3. Coal to chemicals complexes
4. Infrastructure, roads, highways
5. Transport, Trucks, Trailer, Container Boxes
6. Oil Refineries
7. Petro Chemical Complexes
8. Waste to Energy Power Plants
The above named are a few exceptional opportunities available for investment by our Middle Eastern friends and of course Chinese companies looking for avenues of profitable businesses.
PAGE: WHAT STEPS HAVE BEEN DONE SO FAR BY PAKISTAN TO ATTRACT LARGE NUMBER OF FOREIGN INVESTORS?
WASEEM VOHRA: We may be ill informed on this aspect of government activities but private sector is pursuing stock exchange businesspersons from abroad and it clearly reflects the current rising trends of some of the blue chips being traded in Pakistani stock exchanges.