IRSHAD SALIM — Pakistani expatriates collectively own a $587 million+ organization back home but were unaware until the newly appointed Chairman Board of Governors of the Overseas Pakistan Foundation (OPF) broke the news at a town-hall-style meet of more than 500 Pakistanis at the embassy in Riyadh.
More than 2.5 million Pakistanis are in the Kingdom — the largest community among Pakistani Diaspora worldwide and last year they remitted close to $5.6 billion (largest amount among the Diaspora).
According to analysis, they will continue to hold the coveted spot for years to come – thanks to the Saudi economy which despite oil price’s see-saw and several worldwide institutional critics’ tell-tale analyses, will continue to show not only resilience but a smooth sailing towards a “new normal” – an economy without oil as per Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Plan 2020.
Dr. Amjad Malik, a British Human Rights lawyer of Pakistan origin who was recently selected by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to head the humongous outfit (it’s worth more than the Karachi Stock Exchange whose 40% equity was recently bought for $85 million by a consortium of Chinese Stock Exchanges), has been tasked to put it on track – “make it a viable non-for-profit organization to benefit overseas Pakistanis and their families by engaging them effectively”, Dr. Malik said.
Speaking to PKonweb, the newly appointed OPF Chairman said besides facilitating inclusiveness of overseas Pakistanis socially, culturally and politically, the organization will also serve as a bridge and if and where needed shall provide collective platform for those overseas Pakistanis who would want to invest and reap the benefits of a growing enabling business and economic environment in the country after the success of the anti-terrorism National Action Plan and the ongoing $56 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The China-Pakistan “Marshall Plan” in the region is considered a game-changer for Asia with shifting of the region’s center of economic gravity to Pakistan– the Kingdom is one of several friendly regional countries interested in participating in it.
With this developing scenario and cognizant of Pakistani expats powerhouse in the Kingdom, the Prime Minister had announced a year back a $1 billion Overseas Pakistanis’ Investment Bond — to fund the country’s housing sector where returns are much higher than average, and expats have been traditionally investing the most, Mr. Malik told PKonweb.
The $1 billion Bond idea was first floated in December 2013 by the writer at a community event in Riyadh (as reported then in Saudi Gazette) and was immediately welcomed by the ambassador and Islamabad, leading to the PM making an announcement in February 2014 during his visit to Karachi Stock Exchange.
“We can definitely launch the Bond for the expats, if the PM gives us the go ahead,” Dr. Malik told SG when asked if OPF can sponsor it on its own or enable it through the Stock Exchange or on public-private partnership or on 100% OP’s equity basis.
Established decades ago with the intent to act as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the welfare of overseas Pakistanis (8.5 million as of 2016), the gigantic organization has OPs as its mandatory stakeholder (each OP pays almost $69 prior to flying out in pursuit of greener pasture) – an information which was long withheld from them wittingly or unwittingly until the young savvy British-Pakistani lawyer (himself an OP) handed to them their rights, duties, responsibilities, etc. to the shock and awe of many of the attendees of the embassy event.
“Theoretically, OPF is an outfit similar to any other not-for-profit organizations operating worldwide, but what makes it standout is its enabling legal framework, operational capabilities and capacity building abilities,” said Mr. Khalid Rana, President of PML-N in Riyadh.
“If all ducks are in the row and political will prevails, we can do wonders” Mr. Malik concurred. “…specially for the expats in the Kingdom.”
Ambassador Manzur ul Haq suggested launching special measures and conveniences for KSA-based expats because of their comparatively lesser disposal income– $2240/year individually on an average, but on aggregate, the highest amount ($5.6bn) due to their largest population among Pakistanis overseas.
Attorney Malik wants to immediately engage the OP’s going forward so he can execute the initiatives on a two-way street basis – by digging into collective minds of the stakeholders and their knowledge-base, expertise, available resources and skills.
Mr. Malik has announced forming for each region an Overseas Pakistanis Advisory Council (OPAC) with “members to be drawn from each region on merit and value-addition capabilities.”
“It’s a challenge but we will get there political will prevailing,” Mr. Malik said.
(A version of the article also appeared in UAE-based Caravan Daily website and Saudi Gazette)