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‘Cumbersome, time-consuming court proceedings deter foreign investors’

Business

January 6, 2019

Mian Mohammad Mansha is Pakistan’s leading businessman and Chairman of the Nishat Group of companies. The group, with an asset base exceeding $13 billion, has stakes in diverse sectors. The News talked to Mansha about the group’s journey to success and economic growth prospects.

Q: What are the secrets of Nishat Group’s success?

A: The secret I would say is very simple. Hard work done with honesty, steadfastness and dedication always pays. Here I must tell you that luck has a big role to play. You achieve success after success if you are at the right place at the right time. I have been fortunate enough to have luck by my side throughout my career.

Then there were my father’s friends and other good people who were of great help to me. I have been in the textile business since long and when I started in 1971 and up till 1990, the textile factory we owned in Faisalabad was one of the biggest in the sub-continent. It was us who took advantage of the potential of public ownership and were among the first ones to have a company publicly-listed as early as in 1962. The concept was to have a small share in a big venture and invite the public to participate through a larger share and help the company prosper. This strategy has worked well for us.

Business diversification is another cornerstone of our group’s growth strategy. We have ventured into different new sectors over time and benefitted from the expertise of our joint venture partners who have ranked highly in their respective fields. Today, we are one of Pakistan’s biggest exporters, one of the largest tax payers and leading private sector employers with a more than 50,000-strong workforce that has always made us proud. Lately, we have ventured into automobiles and dairy sectors.

Q: You are a staunch advocate of privatisation process. Have the takeovers helped Nishat Group to get to the success?

A: It is not that easy to make non-performing units profitable just by privatising them. A lot of effort, hard work, planning and innovation are required for this purpose. You can see not all cases of privatisation have proved to be successful later on. No doubt, acquisitions of state-owned entities and their revival have helped us grow, but our past business ventures were successful even before that.

Today, MCB Bank is the biggest bank by market valuation in Pakistan and it is also the only bank with all its foreign branches in profit. Adamjee Insurance is the biggest Pakistani insurance company which is also successfully operating in Dubai. DG Khan Cement is producing 25,000 tons of cement every day as compared to 2,000 tons before it was privatised. We are trustees and will not be around forever. The ownership has to be passed on to those who work hard and can build upon our successes.

Q: How do you see the business and investment climate in the country, especially in the backdrop of ongoing accountability drive?

A: You see a new government is there which is trying its best to improve things. But I think a lot more needs to be done. They have taken some short-term measures but I believe there is need for long-term policies and strategies to tackle structural issues that plague our economy. No doubt borrowing from friendly countries in testing times is good but we should also think about making our systems efficient. Believe me one of our major issues is that of incompetence which is far bigger than corruption.

Coming to accountability, I fully support it but my point is that it should be done discretely and with full comprehension of the issues. There should be no character assassination and media trials based on mere suspicion. By doing this, we are scaring away investors and other businessmen who want to work and contribute positively to our economy.

You will be amazed to know how difficult it is for citizens of around 40 countries, including many developed ones, to get a Pakistani visa. Why can’t we let them come in? Cumbersome and time consuming court proceedings also deter foreign investors.

Q: Quite often we hear different allegations against you. What’s your take?

A: There are various reasons for this. For example, there are people who are influential and have defaulted on our loans. When we pressurise them to return these loans, they find it cheaper to file cases against us and drag issues than returning the outstanding amounts. This, they think, is an effective way to pressurise us as well.

Then there are others who come up with allegations against us just on the basis of hearsay.

I have faced a case filed by an individual who alleged there were violations of procurement rules during the award of contract for supply of uniforms for the Punjab police to Nishat Mills.

The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court fined that person for leveling these allegations without any proof and wasting the court’s time.

Q: How do you see economic growth potential?

A: It would not be an overstatement if I say there is immense potential for growth in this country. All we need is proper planning, removal of difficulties and opening up of the sectors that have remained untapped. For example, we can promote medical tourism and religious tourism but so far these have remained vastly neglected.

The cost of medical treatment here is far less than in UK, Europe or the US and even the costs of visa, travel and boarding do not make this option unviable. Then there is a huge potential for mutual trade with our neighbours, which has also remained untapped.

I foresee that many new venues will open to our West once American troops leave Afghanistan. There are many other sectors like these that can contribute if exploited properly.

Q: If there is a potential what is then hampering growth?

A: There are different reasons, but I would like to mention one here that I think is the foremost. Pakistan’s image as known to the world is a big hurdle to investment. Unfortunately, it hasn’t improved much over the years though things have improved on-ground significantly, especially the law and order and security situation.

You see how life in Karachi has improved and the menace of terrorism has been brought under control. There is no disagreement on the fact that the security forces of the country have been highly successful in restoring peace to the country.

We need to capitalise on this and open up our country to the world. We need to share our actual and factual position to the world.

Q: What are your views on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects?

A: My view is that CPEC is a good project and we must not make it controversial. The Chinese are our friends and they have helped us in times of need. We can correct things amicably if there is a need to do so but we must not raise a hue and cry in the media. This sends a wrong message and creates confusion. People are talking about Chinese loans but do not consider that assets are also being generated against them.

Here I would also like to talk about the foreign loans that we have to pay. People worry how foreign loans of up to $80 billion will be settled. Ratio of foreign loans to people’s income is higher in the US than in Pakistan.

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