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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Overseas experts: A force crucial for Pakistan’s success – Dr. Farid A. Malik

Dr. Farid A Malik, an ex-chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation, laments how Pakistan should make better use of expatriate experts which is something not being done currently. He emphasizes that we need people on the basis of merit so we can achieve success in our country.

Recently the Prime Minister (PM) talked about creating an environment for the return of expatriate experts. As a political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has always acknowledged the knowledge base of Pakistanis living abroad. Perhaps Pakistan and India have the largest numbers of gems serving in foreign lands. In India, an extensive plan has already been implemented to make use of this expertise.

Overseas Chinese have contributed immensely to the rise of their homeland as a world economic power. Unfortunately, most Muslim countries including Pakistan have not been able to take advantage of this resource. As I have been through this painful loop myself, my experiences can be put to good use for the benefit of the country.

SML: An entity run by non-professionals

During my study years in the decade of the eighties at the University of Arizona, College of Mines, I came to know about the first large-scale mining project that was being planned in Balochistan. Located near the Pak-Iran border, the Saindak Copper and Gold Project was launched by Resource Development Corporation (RDC) which was headed by an imminent Geologist Dr. Sabihuddin Bilgrami.

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My teacher Dr. Naseer Sheikh was sent to Tucson to conduct bench studies on the Ore Deposit at the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) a mining consulting firm where I worked part-time. On my visit to Pakistan, I personally met Dr. Bilgrami and we agreed to keep in touch with a possible future role in the project. Finally, when I returned to the land of the pure in 1992 to start my own consulting business, I received a telephone call from Quetta.

As a foreign qualified expert, I was invited to review the project. With an investment of Rs 16 billion, it was the largest undertaking by the federal government. Upon arrival, I was first briefed at the Head Office (HO) at Quetta. I was told that RDC had ceased to exist, a new entity had been created by the name of Saindak Metals Limited (SML) headed by Yakub Bizenjo, a retired bureaucrat. Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) was the contractor who was tasked with a turn-key contract.

According to the agreement, there would be a 90-day overlap for handing over the running facility to the local management. After the briefing, I asked for the Transfer of Technology (TOT) package which did not exist. Almost everyone seemed clueless. There is a famous Punjabi saying which best describes the situation; “Annay hath Bataira” (Quail hunted by the blind). While I wanted to use my professional experience from the Copper Mines of Arizona, I have been pressured to toe the line of the nonprofessionals who were at the helm. With my defiance, I went all the way to the Federal Minister and Secretary but no one seemed interested.

Finally as predicted, the operation was handed over to the Chinese contractor who was able to mine and ship the concentrates home for refining and value addition. Now after twenty years, the same firm desires another extension to mine our resources. Had we succeeded at Saindak, the same team could have developed Reko Diq which is located not too far away.

The World Bank project: Another disappointing encounter

The next encounter was the World Bank (WB) project for the privatization of P.C.S.I.R Labs. Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) had prepared a plan under which the WB offered to provide a loan of $ 5 Million against the assets of the Lab. The amount was to be used for restructuring the organization to make it profitable. The entire effort was misdirected. It is almost impossible for a research organization to transform into a profitable entity. I was offered a position in implementing the plan if I gave up my opposition to it.

I wrote to the PM office. Benazir agreed with me. Finally, it was decided that I would hold a one on one meeting with the WB program manager and agree on the way forward. My hats off to Late Sheikh Mahmood Ahmed a fine professional who agreed with me at the cost of losing his own job. The entire program was shelved while P.C.S.I.R was saved.

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Then came the development of Thar Coal mines. As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) I started the project in the year 2004 with a primary focus on mining. My term ended in 2005 but I kept going as I had the experience of large-scale mining which was locally unavailable. In 2006, ENGRO decided to produce electricity from Thar Coal. We had a meeting with the group in Karachi in which we were briefed about their plan. The Program Manager was a local qualified Chemical Engineer who has now been tasked to look after CPEC  as Special Assistant to the PM (Thanks to his former boss).

According to the plan, mining was to be done by the Government of Sindh while ENGRO planned to produce power by burning the mined coal. It was clearly pointed out that both approaches were incorrect. The provincial government lacked the capacity to launch a mining operation of this size and Western lending institutions were no longer lending projects for burning coal.

Finally, there was a change of leadership and approach. A joint venture company SEMEC ( Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company ) was launched under a fine professional Shamsuddin Sheikh of ENGRO which then extracted the coal. The power plant was financed by China under CPEC.

Pakistan: A major player in the Coal Mining arena 

In August 2018, I was invited to visit the site and touch the Black Gold. It was a dream come true. The same team has now been positioned to develop Reko Diq. My most recent paper titled; “An Integrated Coal Based Energy System for Pakistan” has been accepted for presentation at the International Pittsburgh Coal Conference scheduled for September 2021. Today, Pakistan has emerged as a major player in the Coal Mining arena mainly due to the efforts of three individuals (Myself, Shamsuddin Sheikh, Nauman Dar)

Abdullah Gul the former President of Turkey during his last state visit to Lahore held a separate session with experts. He said the same words as the PM saying,” You have Overseas Experts who can help you, why don’t you seek their expertise?” He said we invited our Overseas Experts in all major fields. They sat across the table and guided the local players, together they came up with solutions that made the turnaround possible. The problem in Pakistan is that no one is prepared to listen. The PM calls them ‘Mafia’ but they are well entrenched.

In the words of Steve Jobs; “Either lead or get out of the way”, but in the land of the pure they stay without leading or being pushed out. Personally, I have a long list of the battles that I continue to fight as an Overseas Expert who decided to launch himself in his home country. In the year 2002, I was offered the position to head the newly created organization Pakistan Standard’s and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) which was headquartered in Karachi. I personally met the Secretary with a request to move the head office to Islamabad which was denied, reluctantly I had to turn down the offer.

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Finally, after about wasting twenty years, the ministry has decided to move the office of the DG to Islamabad. My denial caused a lot of heartburn in the ministry but I managed to get selected on open merit as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF). In this position, I worked very hard for the commercialization of research and launched several projects. I was denied extension despite producing results and replaced with a retired 74 years scientist. On my farewell visit to the Ministry, the parting words of the Secretary were; “Dr. Sahib you worked very hard but never followed our directives.”

In reply I said; “I had the choice of either to deliver or to follow your directives.” Thus my stint at PSF ended. I then joined PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Center)as DG. I had started my career here as Apprentice Engineer in the year 1977 and understood the organization well. Unfortunately, PITAC had been placed under a newly created outfit TUSDEC (Technology Upgaradation and Skill Development Company) which was headed by private sector individuals with a serious conflict of interest.

TUSDEC proved to be another disaster that needs to be investigated. I tried to revive PITAC to its original glory but there was too much interference from the Private Sector members who had no clue about running public sector organizations. I left with a heavy heart. Finally, when PITAC succeeded in regaining its autonomy, recognizing my efforts, they decided to invite me to head their Advisory Committee.

Recognizing the incompetency in our system

Pakistan is blessed with overseas experts but we have to create space for their expertise which does not exist. The Mafias or the entrenched Allamas and the all-powerful bureaucrats come in the way. Despite his clear intentions to follow merit, nepotism prevails right under the nose of the PM. Favorites and locally qualified and subservient former assistants are being appointed without due process. Unless we field our best players the team will not be able to deliver.

CPEC is currently the most important project in the country, after the stepping down of the Chairman, the position must be filled through a transparent process, appointing former assistants will hurt the project. As a foreign qualified, Overseas Expert myself, I have had to struggle to maintain my professional integrity developed through years of foreign education and exposure.

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The environment in the land of the pure is not conducive as the focus remains on personal not national goals. The PM means well but his team does not. Like the Non-Disclosure agreement, all federal ministers/secretaries, special assistants, chairmen of committees should be made to sign an anti-nepotism undertaking to ensure merit in all appointments otherwise their subordinates, colleagues, and relatives will hold all important positions right under the nose of the PM. For the country to move forward, this must change.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.