Ministry of Maritime Affairs is primarily engaged in facilitating the ports and shipping industry of Pakistan by providing policy guideline to encourage port development and growth in shipping. Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi was kind enough to talk to Safety & Security Today regarding the initiatives being undertaken by the Ministry to propel growth in Pakistan’s maritime sector.
SST: Tell us something about your educational background?
I was born in Karachi, attended a Parsi School there for Matriculation, and completed my intermediate from DJ Science College. Afterwards, I went to University of Karachi from where I completed my B.Com. Then I started my own business and established a company in United States. Most of my 90’s were spent travelling between the U.S and Karachi.
SST: What prompted you to join politics or is this something you always wanted to do?
I was never involved in politics at school or college and never supported any political party. But since I was doing business abroad, I used to compare the situation in Pakistan to that in other countries. Our country was in a constant state of decline whereas other countries were prospering. This was a matter of great frustration for me. However, a turning point happened in late 1999 when I witnessed a gruesome road accident in Karachi in which a woman was killed. The apathy of the police and seeing how vulnerable the common people are made me frustrated and I couldn’t sleep for a good few nights. Fast forward couple of months and I happened to watch Imran Khan speaking on a news channel. He was talking about his vision for Pakistan and the importance of justice and I was convinced that if our country has to progress we need such politics. Soon after, I became active in politics and contested the elections in 2002. My only motivation was the passion to bring a change, and that passion is what has got me here. Our struggle was never to become Ministers, we wanted Imran Khan to be elected as the Prime Minister, and we achieved this target.
SST: How has been your experience as the Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs?
I am the first elected representative to head this Ministry. Before me the Ministry was always headed by a Senator. I strongly believe that this Ministry can turnaround the economic condition of Pakistan. If you look at ports globally, you’ll find that it is the ports that run the cities, not the other way around. I visited many ports across the world after assuming charge. I was most impressed by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). PANYNJ operates the PATH rapid transit system, the AirTrain Newark system and the AirTrain JFK system. It also operates major bus depots including Port Authority Bus Terminal, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, and the Journal Square Transportation Center. A host of bridges and tunnels are also operated by PANYNJ. In addition, it also operates six airports that include among others the John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and the Stewart International Airport. Last year, the after-tax profit of PANYNJ was $5.2 billion. Around 36% of this revenue was income from rentals. This is exactly what Karachi Port Trust (KPT) should have done. The money earned from port operations should have been spent to build the city. KPT has to replicate the model of PANYNJ and invest in financially sustainable projects and this is what I am working on.
SST: Can you highlight some of the key initiatives undertaken by the current government for the promotion of Pakistan’s maritime sector?
The first and the most important thing I did after assuming charge was to ban the lease of KPT’s land. KPT’s land was being leased for pennies for years just to benefit certain people. KPT’s land will now only be used for public-private partnerships. This will help KPT strengthen its financial stability due to income from non-port operations. Port Qasim Authority’s land was also being similarly leased for pennies. We could have been the hub of port activity instead of Jebel Ali and Mumbai. I say this because majority of world’s energy passes merely 15 nautical miles away from the port of Gwadar. We never realized the potential of Gwadar, we could have set up shipbuilding workshops in Gwadar and this would have attracted the ships that currently dock at Fujairah for repairs, earning valuable foreign exchange.
Pakistan also has a great potential in the fisheries. However, the seriousness of past governments in this regard can be highlighted from that fact that we had no Fisheries Development Commissioner for a decade and it was only recently that an appointed has been made on this post. We are also working to improve the connectivity of Karachi port, right now due to congestion container traffic is only allowed for a few hours. This is far from ideal for a port and we are working on it in a bid to improve the connectivity of the port.
SST: What are the challenges you have faced so far?
There was a change in article 172 under the 18th Amendment. Previously the article stated that everything within the continental shelf or underlying the ocean up to the coast vests in the Federal Government. Under the 18th Amendment, it was rephrased as, “All lands, minerals and other things of value within the continental shelf or underlying the ocean beyond the territorial waters of Pakistan shall vest in the Federal Government.” This change has complicated matters between the Center and the Provincial governments. Another major challenge that I face is making people realize the true potential of this Ministry. The last thing I will mention here is the lack of quality human resources. There is a massive capacity gap right now in the Ministry which we are looking to bridge.
SST: Is Pakistan currently fully utilizing its maritime potential?
There is massive potential in Pakistan’s maritime sector and we are yet to tap into it because this sector has been largely neglected in the past.
SST: What are potential avenues of growth in the maritime sector?
There is huge potential in the shipping industry. Currently we spend $5 billion annually in lieu of freight charges because we don’t have enough ships of our own. Under the new shipping policy the private sector has been provided an opportunity to purchase ships. Now, you can run a ship with Pakistani flag without paying any customs duty. The port will also give facilities on a priority basis to the ships belonging to Pakistan.
We are also taking practical measures to resolve the issues of seafarers, enabling them to contribute to the country’s economy. We can earn valuable foreign exchange if we facilitate seafarers, one step we have taken to facilitate seafarers is the discontinuation of signoff/sign-on requirement. The potential in this sector can be gauged from the fact that last year Filipino seafarers sent home $6 billion in remittances.
SST: How do you see the future of Gwadar port and what steps is the government taking to give impetus to Gwadar’s growth?
I would repeat again that ports run the city. Gwadar is a port city, without the port, it is nothing. The irony is that people who haven’t even been to sea are making the policy for the port. We have to take on board people who are well versed with the operation of ports and know what needs to be done. The most important thing we need to focus on with regards to Gwadar is improving its connectivity with the rest of the country via road and rail network.
SST: What impact can the successful execution of CPEC have on Pakistan’s maritime sector?
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a massive project, but it has to benefit the whole country. If the project only benefits some specific areas it will create grievances and we have to be mindful of that. The most recent joint coordination committee (JCC) meeting on CPEC was very successful. As a result, China will be setting up numerous factories in Gwadar, which will create job opportunities for Balochistan’s youth. Gwadar can certainly be a game-changer but only if it is managed properly.
SST: Diverting from Ministry affairs, the Federal government launched the Clean Karachi campaign earlier this year. Is there any permanent solution to Karachi’s garbage problem?
Cleaning Karachi is on top of my priority list. We are currently working with the Sindh government to set up two waste to energy plants in Karachi, this will not only produce electricity but will also help in disposing of trash. Further, the Sindh Infrastructure Development Co. Ltd. (SIDCL) has been tasked with carrying out the mega projects in Karachi but we have offered them to do these projects because we have the liquidity to undertake these projects in a financially sustainable way.
SST: What legacy would you like to leave as the Minister for Maritime Affairs?
I would like to be remembered as an honest and hardworking person who performed to the best of his ability.