Is Pakistan Serious about Poverty Alleviation?
By Pervaiz Lodhie
Torrance, CA

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. I have 10,500 special emergency LED flashlights, or torches as they call them in Pakistan, stacked in my labor-intensive assembly setup Shaan Technologies in Karachi Export Processing Zone ready and packaged to be dispatched to the earthquake affected areas since December 2005. These torches could be of great use to the 10,500 tent and shelter families who are currently without electricity or any other source of light.
Believe me there are thousands of villages in Pakistan today whose inhabitants live in the dark and have been without electricity for centuries. I have visited some of these villages myself.
For the past several years I have also tried earnestly to attack the curse of poverty in Pakistan. It is a slow and painstaking process. In 1998 I started creating skilled jobs in Pakistan by deciding to engage in labor-intensive assembly in Karachi for 1000’s of my designed packages in the USA. I was duly guided by the LA Consulate and Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce to launch my facility, Shaan Technologies, in the Karachi Export Processing Zone (KEPZ). Till today this facility has been a major blessing for my USA company LEDtronics and its employees. Shaan Technologies today has 155 employees and enjoys an employment growth rate of 25-50%. Since the desired skills are not available in Pakistan, I have been myself imparting the skills to an easy-to-train-and-intelligent workforce available from the surrounding areas of Korangi, Malir, Landhi, etc.
Each employee on our KEPZ payroll has generally 9 other members to feed. You can appreciate how the 155 employees today are instrumental in providing food and other basic necessities to 1550 people. No one can dispute that these 1550 people create a ripple effect and boost the surrounding economy about 10-fold since poor people don’t have much to put in the savings accounts. They spend whatever they have. It would not be wrong to infer that the 155 Shaan Tech employees are positively affecting 15,500 people in the surrounding areas. The KEPZ setup is also a technology-transfer unit in the field of energy saving and alternative energy friendly products that do not exist in Pakistan.
I have been active in the NCHD (National Commission on Human Development) from day one of its inception four years ago. It is a long-term and slow process of providing basic health and education facilities to the poorest rural segment of Pakistan population. In the last four years I have been testing solar-powered LED lighting, village LED street lighting and solar powered water pumps in different locations of Pakistan in association with the NRSP, one of the best and most accountable and effective NGOs in Pakistan.
Most of my work in this area can be seen by going to Google on the web and launching a search for ‘Pervaiz Lodhie’. Last year, NRSP with the help of the UNDP, decided to uplift the 400-year-old Markhal village in Talagang/ Chakwal to the level of a model village in the Punjab province. I supplied solar-powered LED light systems complete with four bulbs per home, solar panels, and charge controllers for lighting a cluster of 28 homes in Markhal. Even though all the assembly work for these systems was done in Karachi to utilize Pakistani labor, I had shipped the heavy systems at my own expense from Los Angeles to NRSP Islamabad last year. NRSP faced small delays in getting the systems cleared through the customs. I visited village Markhal at night on Jan 1, 2006 to see the 17th century like dark village transform into a 21st century well lit solar-powered village. I am told that villagers from far off are coming to see the miracle solar-powered lighting. During my visit I felt the need for street lighting before presenting the village as a model to all the stakeholders.
In January 2006 I quickly sent all the material to Shaan Technologies Karachi not only for the solar-powered street LED lights for Markhal Village but also all systems for a similar project in the Hub area of rural Sindh. These systems were to be given to the Indus Earth Trust which has been contracted by the PPAF (Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund). I was sure that the assembled systems could be handed over to the NGOs with little or no hassle. I was wrong. I can export any and all goods from KEPZ to anywhere outside Pakistan but due to the 80/20 rule I cannot ship them inside Pakistan even if they are being donated or are meant for a highly deserving poverty-alleviation rural village program. After waiting for two months to get these badly needed systems to the village projects in Pakistan, I reluctantly had the systems shipped all the way back to me in Los Angeles after paying hefty airfreight. From LA I have reshipped the systems to Islamabad and Karachi directly to the NGOs that they were meant for originally. That was two-three weeks ago and I don’t think the systems have cleared the long red tape and bureaucratic formalities or the centuries old munshi process. The biggest losers in this vexatious, time-consuming exercise are the poor villagers of Pakistan whose lot is likely to suffer and for whom no relief appears to be in sight.
The 80/20 rule of KEPZ could be a good procedural requirement. When KEPZ was started about 20 plus years ago it was misused by many initial manufacturers and traders in the Zone. The KEPZ was used for smuggling goods into the country without paying duties and taxes. Now the KEPZ is run so strictly that possibly even a fly cannot go in or out. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, CBR Chairman Abdullah Yousuf, EPB Chairman Tariq Ikram, NCHD Chairman Dr Nasim Ashraf are all aware of my dilemma. The 80/20 rule (80% export necessary to ship 20% inside Pakistan) is great for encouraging exports but without necessary amendment it will block poverty-alleviation products, energy-reduction products, alternative energy products or products to be given to qualified NGOs of Pakistan. I could have been given an SRO (special release order) or release from 80/20. I have no idea how many months or years this will take while I will let the 10,500 LED emergency torches donated by me for the earthquake areas rot in cartons in my plant in KEPZ. I am in no hurry, if Pakistan is not.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.