INTERVIEW WITH BASHIR AHMED ABBASI, FORMER CHIEF EXECUTIVE PAKISTAN GEMS & JEWELLERY DEVELOPMENT COMPANY

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

July 18 - 24, 2011

PAGE: PLEASE TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF?

BASHIR ABBASI: I got my secondary education from public school Hyderabad and cadet college Petaro. I did my masters from Karachi University and joined civil service of Pakistan in early 80s. I have served in various public sector organizations and government departments on important responsibilities throughout my career. Before joining PGJDC, I worked as Managing Director of National Education Foundation in ministry of education at Islamabad. I also worked as Director General of National Institute of Science and Technology Islamabad, Director General Port Qasim Authority at Karachi, Export Processing Zone Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Defense, and Director to the minister communications Islamabad.

PAGE: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ABOUT GEMS AND JEWELLERY INDUSTRY'S PERFORMANCE IN PAKISTAN?

BASHIR ABBASI: Before 2006 gems and jewellery sector was a non-formal industry. Government of Pakistan declared this sector as a formal industry with the objective to develop it on scientific concept and modernize the sector to compete in the international market for maximizing the exports. In this regard, Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company (PGJDC) was established as a subsidiary of PIDC, under the ministry of industry and production. The main function of PGJDC was to import state of the art machinery and equipment to be used in the training centers for skill development of work force. Pakistan has lot of potential of precious and semi-precious stones which are very much in demand in international market.

Some of the precious stones found in Pakistan are emerald, ruby, pink topaz, lapislazzuli, shorelight, rose quartz, tourmaline, moonstone, zarkon, aquamarine, garnet, kunzite and peridot. Pakistani Emerald is mostly found in swat valley, Mangora, Gujarkali and Shamozai. Ruby is generally found in Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir. Unfortunately, gemstone sector has not been adequately developed as per planned strategy.

Similarly, jewellery exports although have increased to 200 per cent, in volume terms its exports comparing with the neighboring countries are unsatisfactory.

Pakistan is the 8th biggest consumer of gold in the world and annually imports 127 tons of gold, but unfortunately there is no consumer satisfaction and Pakistani jewellery industry suffers from unfair competition. To overcome this serious problem assaying and hallmarking should be undertaken on top most priority to compete both in local and global markets.

Similarly, for the development and increase in the exports of gemstone sector, we need to develop chain between mine to market. All efforts and resources need to be utilized to survey the mining deposits of gemstone, and to provide training and skill development facilitation to miners at their doorsteps, through community motivation.

Gems sector during last four years, since the declaration of the formal industry, has not been given its due share. To achieve the targets we need to concentrate on remote areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPACT OF TAXATION SYSTEM ON THE PERFORMANCE OF GEMS AND JEWELLERY SECTOR?

BASHIR ABBASI: Conceptually, when this sector was declared as formal industry to enhance the exports, various concessions and taxation relief were initially allowed to develop the sector. Generally speaking taxation is not a major issue in this sector, however, proper coordination with customs and taxation authorities is required to facilitate the stakeholders in export of gems and jewellery. Presently, Pakistani precious/semi precious gem stones reach international markets through smuggling via third countries, as there are no formal facilitation arrangements to encourage exporters to use formal channels for their exports. As a result government is losing lot of revenue.

PAGE: WHAT ARE THE SUGGESTIONS BY GEMS AND JEWELLERY INDUSTRY FOR PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT?

BASHIR ABBASI: Government has already allocated adequate funds through PGJDC to develop this sector. There have been no budgetary constraints to tackle the sector related issues. However, proper planning, nomination of professional directors on the PGJDC board and concentration of investment in the remote areas is required.

In order to increase the participation of female gender in this industry, specially designed training programs for women focus on empowerment and capacity building should be encouraged in the budget so that they can become their own advocates and can translate their capacity into the financial benefits to change their lives and of those who are dependent on them.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE OUR NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES WITH PAKISTAN IN TERMS OF GEMS AND JEWELLERY INDUSTRY'S PERFORMANCE?

BASHIR ABBASI: Comparing the neighboring countries like India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, Pakistan's gems and jewellery industry is new. It has taken 25 years in India to develop this sector as compared to Pakistan, which is only four years old. PGJDC in this regard has established training centers and gemstone identification laboratories with state of the art machinery and equipment located at Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, and Gilgit. More than 3000 workers have been trained in these training centers.

PAGE: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ABOUT SKILLED AND UNSKILLED LABORS?

BASHIR ABBASI: There is lot of room to improve the skill of labor in this sector. There are more than 1.3 million workers involved in this industry. Unfortunately, most of the labor is uneducated and conservative, located in remote areas like villages, districts, mountains etc. It is therefore very difficult to motivate them to get trainings in the training centers established in urban cities. In my opinion, it is important that this labor can be mobilized through their communities by providing skill development facilities at their doorsteps through mobile training units. Such initiative was taken by me in PGJDC in collaboration with US AID Agency. Further, in this regard it is necessary that job opportunities and link between the training centers and private sector entrepreneurs is developed, so that as soon as the students complete their trainings, the job opportunity is available for them immediately. This kind of incentive will encourage more labor to improve their skills, which can ultimately be utilized in increasing the exports of gems and jewellery.