KARACHI: Sindh Board of Investment (SBI) Chairperson Naheed Memon has said the general perception that there is lack of clarity about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) came after the previous government spent concessionary loans on its flagship Orange Line Metro Train project and , in the process, tried to hide all deals under CPEC.
According to Memon, the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) remains a much more important initiative if the larger picture is taken into account, but funds for such projects were exhausted by the time other provinces went for soft concessionary loans.
Talking to The Express Tribune, she criticised other provinces for a lack of proactive approach, saying they demanded concessionary loans, but were told that such an option had already been exhausted for CPEC. Provinces should have taken an aggressive stance, she remarked.
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"In order to keep secret the Orange Line deal, the previous government made all CPEC deals obscure, which generally made people suspicious about the corridor altogether," she said.
There is a general perception among the business community of the vague nature of CPEC projects, which has restrained them from exploring avenues of investment in the gigantic project.
Some of them have even said that their Chinese counterparts are getting preferential treatment under CPEC.
"Everyone in the Special Economic Zones is being treated equally; be it Pakistanis, Chinese or overseas investors from European countries," Memon said.
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She criticised the former Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government for its obsession to resolve the energy crisis, ignoring the piling up of foreign debt due to excessive loans taken for power projects in the process.
Pakistan's economy has been facing difficulties due to depleting foreign exchange reserves while the current account deficit has swelled to $17.994 billion (5.7% of gross domestic product) at the end of fiscal year 2017-18.
"We are short-sighted in election campaigns," the SBI chief said. "It was the energy crisis for the previous government and (system) change for the present government. We need to look ahead even if it is achieved by our successors in office."
Citing the Chinese example, she stated, "Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning for the next 2,000 years. Of course, he won't be alive to see that glory, but he still is looking that far. Our people also need to have similar visions," Memon said.
When asked that Sindh had not been considered business-friendly, she rebuffed the notion, stressing that majority of the tycoons in Pakistan had raised their wealth from Sindh. She blamed it on propaganda against the province.
Moreover, Memon said governing Karachi, the biggest city of Pakistan, was an arduous job as there were several political factions. But since security has got better, business environment has also improved.
Emphasising the importance of small and medium enterprises, she pointed out that they actually needed support to thrive.
"Large businesses find their way out of almost everything. They have the power to lobby and undertake work," she added. "It's small and medium businesses that need to be facilitated and we have made this our target."
She added that she wanted women to participate in businesses which would help improve economic growth. However, she acknowledged that there were several bureaucratic hurdles.
Recounting her experience, Memon revealed that she herself had to struggle for a meagre loan of Rs0.3 million for office furniture.
"I felt like I should pay from my own pocket," she said. "That is the level of helplessness one feels."
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2018.
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