Mian Muhammad Aslam Iqbal is Minister for Industries, Commerce & Trade, in Punjab since August 2019. He previously also held the additional portfolio of Information and Culture. He is one of the most prominent and articulate politicians of present-day Punjab, from Lahore, and one of the few PTI ministers who also won elections in 2013 on party’s ticket, from Lahore. (PP-148).
He has a track record of a long successful political career with increasing responsibility. He won the provincial assembly seat in Punjab for the third time in 2018. (PP-151). He has been a member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab from 2013 till 2018 elections and before that from 2002 till 2008 (PP-148, Lahore) when he won as an independent candidate. Previous to that, he served as Nazim (Mayor) from Union Council No. 106, Samnabad, Lahore when Mian Amir Mehmood, now Chairman Dunya News TV Network, had first emerged as Nazim of whole Lahore.
In his political capacity, as Minister directly responsible for industrial zones across Punjab, he has played a very important role in facilitating the successful launch of Allama Iqbal Industrial City in Jan 2020 and later the Quaid-e-Azam Business Park (QBP) near Sheikhupura and has been instrumental in launching Punjab Rozgar Scheme to help the small and medium enterprises suffering as a result of corona pandemic. Mian Aslam Iqbal spoke to GVS on how CPEC has helped Punjab and how Punjab is now gearing for CPEC Phase II.
How has CPEC helped Punjab? How you intend to benefit from its Phase II? And which CPEC related socio-economic projects, do you intend to develop?
CPEC has helped not only Punjab but the whole country; especially the business entities in two ways: One, energy projects ended load shedding and restored competitiveness of firms; second, by improving the connectivity of major cities in Punjab with China and the Arabian Sea. Punjab’s main focus is now to leverage this competitiveness for bringing in capital investments that can transform Punjab and ultimately Pakistan.
During phase I, CPEC projects under implementation in Punjab were energy and infrastructure-centric; this is now concluding. Industrialization and establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is the second phase of CPEC.
We just launched a Rs. 100 Billion worth “Punjab Rozgar Scheme” for supporting SMEs. This is a well thought out strategy to increase cash flow for small businesses, very easy loans from Rs. 1 lac to Rs. 1 crore, at 4% and 5% respectively, are being offered, Punjab government has kept up Rs. 10 billion as a guarantee to banks to cover for mark-up losses and defaults.
Given the Prime Minister’s emphasis on human resource development, we are developing projects, aligned with CPEC phase II, which would focus on aspects of human capital development. We are also working to leverage the China-Pakistan FTA 2 that will provide added returns to our firms and open up markets for them.
Socio-economic development has become a buzzword; what exactly is meant by socio-economic development in the context of CPEC?
We feel that economic stabilization has taken place through lower interest rate, settled dollar rate, better current account deficit and other macroeconomic variables. Sooner or later, economic growth will also come. For that time, as I said before, we are preparing our youth through skill development and human capital investments. Also, create a better business environment. So, when the time is right, these resources are put to their best use for the highest return for Pakistan.
And what is this “Evidence-based strategy”?
Punjab Industrial Policy, 2018, Punjab Growth Strategy and Punjab Spatial Strategy are three documents introduced by this Government that have data as evidence to inform policy and plans. One uses strong econometric models built on secondary data, and the other uses GIS-based data to inform policy.
We use data and analysis in policymaking as that is hard evidence for performance, and our decision-making is then not made on personal whims and wishes. The policies and plans have sound evidence to support them on their own.
So, coming back to the old-fashioned hardcore CPEC, how many SEZs are now active in Punjab?
There are total 9 SEZs in Punjab, however, right now, only one SEZ, Allama Iqbal Industrial City (AIIC) Faisalabad, is prioritized SEZ (PSEZ) under CPEC. AIIC is of about 3000 acres and is being developed on a fast-pace as per international standards linked with CPRC.
Quaid-e-Azam Business Park by PIEDMC that had developed Sundar near Lahore also looks promising, can a case be made to include Quaid-e-Azam Business Park in CPEC?
Yes, this seems quite logical as Punjab is the biggest province with regards to population, production, GDP share, Industrialization etc. And a good case exists for QBP. It may also be included in the approved list of PSEZs as it is located right on M2 Motorway linked with the eastern route of CPEC providing excellent access to markets and ports.
Do you remember that PTI government had promised to create 10 million new jobs through its policies, with an exceptionally slow economy, are you still hopeful of achieving that?
No, we have not forgotten! Various sound policies and innovative initiatives have been set in motion since the formation of PTIs government in Punjab. Let me stress here that we will need extensive handholding and inputs from all our businesses every step of the way to realize our targets.
It is an undeniable fact that the only effective way of increasing investments, business activity and thus, jobs are to guarantee investors’ safety and good profits. I would like to stress this commitment of the Punjab government on these counts.
The whole world has been hit hard by pandemic but with the grace of God, PM’s strategy of “smart lockdowns” has given us a safe landing
We are thus working on improving the entire value chain that is essential for industrial growth; from providing unencumbered industrial land, to handholding SMEs by improving access to finance; to revamping the skills landscape by introducing internationally accredited demand-driven skill courses; to bringing regulatory reforms for ease of doing business and leading up to the marketing of opportunities- we have it all under focus and consideration.
But Minister, whatever plans you had in the pipeline have been hit hard by the corona pandemic? What’s the strategy to bounce back?
You are right! The whole world has been hit hard – even the most developed economies are in crisis, look at the situation across neighbouring India. But with the grace of God, PM’s strategy of “smart lockdowns” has given us a safe landing. We have just launched a Rs. 100 Billion worth “Punjab Rozgar Scheme” for supporting existing and new SMEs.
This is a well thought out strategy to increase cash flow for small businesses, very easy loans from Rs. 1 lac to Rs. 1 crore, at 4% and 5% respectively, are being offered, Punjab government has kept up Rs. 10 billion as a guarantee to banks to cover for mark-up losses and defaults. It is anticipated that, with an evidence-based analysis that this will benefit around 1.6 million young people and may help establish around 66,880 SMEs in the next five years.
You will remember that the Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced a historic emergency relief package of Rs.150 billion in the cash support for the poorest 12.5 million families; and Rs.100 billion relief package for the business support in the country. A sum of Rs. 47 billion has been earmarked for the Covid-19 — Punjab Economic Stimulus Programme to invest in tackling the health crisis and catalyse economic growth.
In the end, businesses, media and politics need to understand that the future is for those who can innovate and embrace new digital technologies, invest in human resources and better management models. Government job is to facilitate business, promote human skills, but the days of governments running businesses to create jobs are over.
But enhancing human resource skills is still the government’s responsibility?
It’s actually a shared responsibility. Many businesses across Punjab have invested in developing workers skills. We are encouraging more and more of this. With this “facilitation” clearly in mind, we have also rolled out Rs. 1500 Million skills project- “Hunarmand Naujwan” to empower 94,700 youth with a new focus on Quality Demand-Driven Skills. We aim to increase the training facility for young graduates from 90,000 per annum to 157,000 per annum.
We are providing developed space for the new industries on 10,769 acres in 9 different industrial estates and SEZs. We are rigorously working for reforming the regulatory environment adapting the international regulatory guillotine approach and digitizing business procedures, for example, we have curtailed business registration procedure from some 46 days to 24 hours process and that too through an online application.
We are also evolving an institutional setup to develop a functional one window facility for businesses. I believe that Punjab is currently an ideal place for international and local investors to tap the available opportunities that this rich land has to offer. So, I invite all to join hands with the Government of Punjab. We have what an investor ideally needs to invest profitably and productively.