Serious about Poverty Alleviation?
By Pervaiz Lodhie
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
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.