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Report: Prime Minister meeting with businessmen in Karachi by Majyd Aziz

Preamble:

On the night of September 02, 2013, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Haroon Agar, informed me at the Indonesian National Day Reception that I should reach the Sindh Governor House the next day at 6:30 pm for a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It was late in the night when I informed a couple of people that my business meeting with them had to be rescheduled. Early Tuesday morning, I got a phone call from the Governor House “inviting” me to the meeting. An hour later the Sindh Protocol Department person called and “invited” me to the meeting. Short while later, I received a text message from the Protocol person “reminding” me of the meeting. In the afternoon, a DIG Police called “inviting” me to the meeting. I have been to countless such meetings with Presidents, Prime Ministers and Governors but this was for the first time, I received so many calls and reminders.

There were about 80 some businessmen and industrialists at the meeting. The Prime Minister entered the hall at 7:05 pm with the Governor and Chief Minister. Also with him were Federal Finance, Interior and Information Ministers. Also present were Commerce Secretary, FBR Chairman, BOI Chairman, Sindh Chief Secretary, Sindh IG Police, and Commissioner Karachi. Former President KCCI, Saeed Shafiq recited from the Holy Quran.

Prime Minister’s Remarks:

Welcoming the trade and industry representatives, Premier Sharif, at the outset, stated that he had called the meeting for two reasons. The first was the law and order situation and, secondly, to talk about the economy. He said that his objective was peace in Karachi and this could be addressed through sincere commitment, an avowed passion, and hard work. He said that eliminating terrorism and extremism is on top of his agenda too.

He added that although the Governor is from MQM and the Chief Minister is from PPP, the fact is that where economy, law and order, and terrorism situations are concerned, there would be no politics involved and everyone would be on the same page. Both the Governor and Chief Minister “have to be with me in this process” he said. Moreover, he said, “I respect the mandate of various political parties. The election is over and inspite of negative advertisements by all, I have no regrets of all attacks against me and my party.”

Talking about relations with India, he said that he desired that all issues should be discussed and resolved at the negotiating table. Mentioning Hamid Karzai, the Premier said Karzai extended his stay in Pakistan by one day which is proof of the seriousness of discussions they had.

He further added that he does not have a smile on his face because Pakistanis were facing a myriad of problems and since most of the population was not smiling, he also could not force himself to smile.

The Premier then talked about the initiatives he is undertaking, such as the Gadani Energy Park, the Coal Jetty, and other projects to enhance the capacity of electricity. He advocated out-of-box solutions rather than the conventional steps taken in the past. He informed that the government has announced up-front rates for all power projects so that time is not wasted in determining the tariff.

He disclosed that he met the political parties before this meeting and there was consensus that the time has come to catch the raging bull by its horns to bring peace and make this Karachi the City of Lights once again. He said that various modalities are being contemplated, such as wide-ranging powers to Rangers, the effective role of Police, and ensuring a concerted plan to have coordination among all law enforcing agencies. He empathically stated that no compromises would be made and there would be no discriminatory action against any one. He said that the Chief Minister is already taking the necessary action. He, however, cautioned that this would not be an overnight success program as the matter is very complex and would take time to achieve the desired objectives. He did add that this would not be a one-time limited action but it would be a continuous and concerted action plan of a longer period.

Interaction by Participants:

The Prime Minister than invited the audience to present their views on the law and order situation as well as on the economy. Zubair Malik, President of FPCCI, commenced the interactive session. He started off by demanding the installation of independent Governor and Chief Minister because the root cause is the political affiliation of the two top provincial positions. It was a bold statement to make considering the fact that both the Governor and Chief Minister were present in the meeting. He strongly asserted that unless hard and tough steps and decisions were not put into actual action, Karachi would continue to burn and the situation would continue to deteriorate.

Former FPCCI President S M Muneer lamented that criminals are casually freed by the courts and thus this gives impetus to others to undertake criminal activities without any fear. He said that exemplary punishment should be given to criminals. He also criticized top bureaucrats for not responding on time to emails, letters and calls. He said 95% of these officials do not answer properly. He demanded that personal email addresses of all top officials should be provided and they should be bound to respond on a fast track.

Former President of KCCI and Former Sindh Caretaker Minister Haroon Farooki said that since the last one decade, Karachi is inundated with flags and banners of various parties. Ministers, Advisors and other politicians openly display party flags on vehicles which reflects their loyalty to party not to the country. Even the graffiti on the walls written by workers of various parties create terror and hatred among citizens. Then there are so-called No Go Areas where each party has its own jurisdiction. These attitudes of political parties must end if there is to be some sanity in the city.

Business leader and Former President of KCCI, Siraj Kassam Teli, said that even among political parties there are factions and groups each with their own agendas. He said that now as well as in the past, senior Federal Ministers would come and give us assurances and promises to resolve contentious issues but not a single decision was implemented as decided. He advised the Premier to order all cell phone services providers to stop the system of pre-paid SIMs openly available in the market and instead order the service providers to send SIMs to the users through courier or registered mail. This would drastically reduce the threatening calls and ensuing crimes. He said extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and other criminal activities are big-money ventures and that is why all efforts to curb these have failed. He assured Mr Sharif that if other political parties are hesitant in supporting him, the business community would go all out with their support for his decisions.

Khalid Tawab, Former Vice President FPCCI and Former Sindh Caretaker Minister lauded the services of the Governor who was very supportive and helped the business community. He proposed localization of Police personnel and demanded severe action against Taliban in Karachi.

President KCCI Haroon Agar said there is no writ of the state in this City. Moreover, a politicized Police force is subservient to political parties and their godfathers rather than to the people and the state. He proposed the setting up of a dedicated force to assist KCCI members on a daily basis against various threats received from criminals and activists of political parties or groups. He also apprised the Premier about the anti-business ramifications of various SROs such as 98, 154, 165, 505 etc. He requested Mr Sharif to direct Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to meet KCCI members soon so that all pressing economic matters could be deliberated and discussed.

Former Chairman Export Promotion Bureau, Wajid Jawad, said that the orders of the Supreme Court that all political parties must dissolve their militant wings have not been implemented. He advised the political parties to publicly disown their militant wings and refrain from a blatant display of arms.

Former President KCCI and Chairman Sindh Board of Investment, Zubair Motiwala, said that he has undertaken many road shows in foreign countries to attract investment but the main concern of foreign investors has always been the security of their property and people. He said that some of the SROs, such as 505, are draconian in scope and local as well as foreign investors will think twice before investing. He said that the introduction of the new Wealth Tax and allowing FBR to access bank accounts has already lead to flight of capital and transfer of money from bank accounts to bank lockers and other non-banking places. The downward scenario in bank deposits is testimony to this new scenario. He then went on to talk about what Sindh government is doing for Thar Coal.

Former President KCCI and presently MNA, Qaiser Ahmed Shaikh said that banks are not opening or accepting Letters of Credit when businessmen want to do trade with Iran. He advised the Prime Minister to revisit this situation and ensure that official business is allowed to be conducted through formal banking channels.

Gulzar Firoz Vice President FPCCI said that there is no proper chain of command in the Sindh Police. He also deplored the display of arms by political parties, religious organizations, and the various security guards all over the city.

Atiq Mir who represents the small traders vehemently condemned the inaction of law enforcing agencies and political parties in ending the menace of extortion and kidnapping for ransom. He too said that all promises, pledges, and assurances made by Ministers in the past have been nothing but hot air and no implementation of the orders was ever done. He said that Karachi businessmen and small traders are ready to pay 1% extra tax if provided security against criminals. He said one cause of crimes in Karachi is due to the tension, distrust, and fighting between PPP and MQM.

Haroon Chand who represents the city’s jewelers informed that there are daily attacks on jewel shops in various parts of the city. He said that associations of many markets have an agreement with extortionists of political parties and are regularly paying  a fixed amount of extortion money to them because law enforcing agencies are reluctant to help maintain law and order in the markets.

In a very forceful, strong and convincing manner, Jameel Yousuf, Former Chief CPLC, advocated the removal of the powers vested in the President of Pakistan to decide on mercy petition of those who were on Death Row after courts had ordered them to be executed for their crimes. The process of execution must be carried out. He said that neutrality and even-handed approach must be adopted when taking action in Karachi. He proposed that a Public Safety Commission consisting of independent, sincere, and knowledgeable members of civil society should be established immediately to oversee the law and order situation. He said that generally business community does not have the spine to face the threats of criminals. The PSB would monitor and ensure that targets given to law-enforcers are achieved. He deplored the system of Police recruitment and termed it an unmitigated disaster. He also suggested that the Joint Investigation Teams that are lying dormant should be revived as these would enable the attainment of convictions that civil courts are reluctant to order.

Capt Asif Masood, representing the truckers and long-haulage operators, informed that not a day goes by when trucks carrying containers are not hijacked in SITE or on the Northern By-Pass, especially between Karachi and Jam Shoro and that this is done with impunity. He said Mauripur Road and Lyari are hotbeds of crime and corruption. He advised the Premier to also go for short-term solutions rather than concentrating only on long-term answers to law and order problems.

Former Chairman Korangi Association of Trade and Industry, Masood Naqi, complimented role of the Governor. He said that citizens are living their existence under stress and tension. He raised a concern about the intentions of the federal government and said that there is a perception that keep Karachi in turmoil and Punjab at peace and thus induce industries and businesses to shift to Punjab.

Chairman Korangi Association of Trade and Industry, Zubair Chhayya, also praised the Governor and informed that factories in Korangi are gradually closing down as it has become very difficult to operate factories when management is unable to visit their own units.

Majyd Aziz, Former President KCCI, when asked by the Prime Minister to speak, said that he received a call from Kimihide Ando, the Japanese and first foreign President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who requested him to convey to Mr Sharif that Japanese and other foreign investors who used to term infrastructure shortages as the number one negative issue and later termed corruption as the main issue in the past five years, are now saying that the worsening of the law and order is their primary concern.

Majyd Aziz further informed the Prime Minister that security has become a major money-making venture, He said there are more units providing bullet-proofing of vehicles than probably in any other city or country. He said there is such a huge demand for uniformed security guards that the security guards providing agencies are now recruiting ill-trained civilians because there are not enough retired army personnel available. Moreover, most of the areas have become secured enclaves while barriers have been erected at all entry points. It has become a horrendous task trying to enter different areas. The presence of armed guards, para-military forces, and other law-enforcers are, in effect, sending a wrong message to those who land at the airports and travel towards city.

Majyd Aziz assured the Prime Minister that despite all roadblocks, handicaps, and criminal activities, there are many domestic investors who still prefer to invest and do business in Karachi. The positive message must come from the government as soon as possible so that the stakeholders continue business activities.

Former President KCCI, Anjum Nisar, Chairman Federal ‘B’ Area Association of Trade and Industry, Hafiz Shamsi, Patron Bin Qasim Association of Trade and Industry, Mian M Ahmed, Chairman Karachi Wholesalers Group, Anis Majeed also presented their views. Javed Arsalan Khan, representing small traders also presented anecdotal evidence of the open threats and activities of criminals supported by various political parties. Another leader of small traders, Ilyas Memon, loudly complained about the menace of the extortion racket and deemed it a curse on the city. One of them reminded the Premier that the symbol of PML-N is the Tiger and it is incumbent upon him to take tiger-like decisions. Another said that the government must consider trade and industry as the main stakeholders. Someone mentioned that Karachi should have a non-political Administrator like in FATA. It was mentioned that food shortages could result in other parts of Pakistan if containers are hijacked during movement.

Concluding the session, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured the audience that they would see the decisions of his government in action very shortly as he is chairing the Federal Cabinet meeting in Karachi to demonstrate the seriousness of the Karachi imbroglio.

Majyd Aziz is the former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) and a social worker. Twitter: MajydAziz

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