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August 26, 2019

Turning PM House, state buildings in educational institutions not a pragmatic idea


August 26, 2019

Islamabad : When Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government came into power almost a year ago, the leader of the party, Imran Khan announced that he will turn the PM House into a University.

Similarly, the two provincial governments in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa (KPK) and the Punjab and even in Sindh also made announcement to throw open the state properties like the Governor Houses for public.

The trend is continuing and some more state properties of historic value are being thrown open for public, but only to 'visit and watch'!

However, so far the PM House has not been handed over to any educational institutions and the decision to throw open the Governor Houses in the Punjab, the KPK and Sindh has only caused problems and damage to the historical assets of country because of general public visits.

And probably this delay in opening a university or something like that in the PM House and the damages caused to the historic 'Governor Houses' in provinces are a blessing in disguise!

The fact remains that despite Prime Minister Imran Khan not living in the fabulously luxurious (according to Pakistan standards) 'Prime Minister's House', the government is continuing to spend millions and millions for its maintenance and upkeep as well as against the salaries of the staff.

But one feels that the 'PM House' is not a building fit to accommodate a University or any such premier educational institution. However, not only the 'PM House' but the 'Governor Houses' in the provinces, and the 'State Guest Houses' all over the country, located at prime locations, are most suitable to be turned into hotels of international standards.

There is very little presence of chains of International Hotels in Pakistan. The 5-star hotel industry in Pakistan is almost monopolized by two groups; the Serena Hotels owned by Agha Khan and the Marriott hotels in addition to the Pearl Continental, also owned by Sadaruddin Hashwani of Hashoo Group.

There are a few other prominent international chains of hotels operating in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Islamabad like the Movenpick, the Avari hotels, the Best Western and Ramada hotels.

The KPK government has announced to make, if not all, at least almost all the government guest houses/rest houses available for the tourists from all over the country where they can rent a room or rooms to stay.

One feels that this is a wobbling first step, which if not immediately stabilized, will result in a face down fall! Everybody knows that the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) at federal level and the Tourism Development Corporations (TDCs) at provincial level have hardly proved to be efficient in their operations. In fact there had been a downsizing in the PTDC and they even stopped operations at a number of stations.

Besides, one would not have forgotten the Dean's Hotel in Peshawar, the Flatties in Lahore, and the Cecil Hotel in Murree, which were being managed by the PTDC or may be the provincial TDCs! And what had happened to these today?

Amidst prevailing operational conditions the latest step by the KPK government is highly unlikely to deliver the desired results. But there indeed is a much better option and that is to lease out these properties to national and international hotel and motel chains through open auction. Preferably to international hotel/motel operators!

They are professional people and know how to market, manage and maintain these historic facilities, which have a lot of heritage value attached. Any direct or indirect intervention by the government or the political forces could only be hurdles and stumbling blocks in way of running/operating these facilities in a professional style.

On one hand, the government would start reaping fruits of the steps almost immediately, both in shape of elimination of exorbitant management/maintenance costs on one hand and revenue generation under the signed agreement with the operators on the other.

Almost all these properties have vast open spaces on all four sides of the historic structures. Under these lease agreements, the party have won the rights to run the facility, should be allowed to create/construct more rooms vertically and not horizontally, keeping a safe distance from the actual structure to maintain their grandeur.

And the best would be to start with the Prime Minister's House by turning it into a 7-star hotel and the four Governor Houses, all being leased out to international hoteliers under transparent terms and conditions and legal system.