We, in Pakistan, are very fond of MEGA projects. No one notices anything unless it has words such as tallest, largest, longest, biggest associated with its name. Governments in Pakistan are also aware of this psyche of the masses. Every government wants to introduce projects that are bigger and bigger either in terms of size or cost. These big projects work well for the political gains and for the corrupt mafia too but that’s another discussion.
Mega projects are good. They bring about bigger changes, they mobilize huge resources, create huge employment opportunities etc. etc. But they also have a longer turnaround time and need huge finances too, not only in local currency but in foreign exchange too. To be successful such mega projects require lot of advance studies, detailed planning, thorough analysis and tons of coordination. In the absence of which success is less likely. Additionally, due to mere size they generally require use of advance technology as well. Let’s face it, we as a nation do not have lots of examples to offer of projects that involved well thought out advance planning and studies, hence the desired positive impacts of such projects are not always as visible to everyone other than the governments who initiated the same. Not that the writer is supporting this incapability, and that the governments should not strive to develop high quality human resources, it is just being pointed out as a fact at this point in time.
During strategic management, it’s a well-established corporate and business approach to build on one’s strengths and not to capitalize on one’s weaknesses. Similarly, to be more successful governments should grab those opportunities that can be materialized using our existing strengths and avoid those situations where success is threatened due to a weakness. In Pakistan’s case volume, population and cheap labor are our strengths whereas we don’t have much capital, time or highly advanced technology so these can be considered our weaknesses. By application of SWOT (Strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) Analysis, going for large number of smaller scale projects would be more favorable for a country like Pakistan rather than few mega projects.
Let’s take few examples. Kalabagh dam, Diamar/Bhasha dam, Karachi Mass Transit Program, Karachi Circular Railway etc. etc. there are tons of huge mega projects that would benefit overall economy and individuals tremendously. What happened? Either we could not build consensus among various provinces (planning, coordination) or we could not generate enough finances, or we could not come up with practical means of implementing these ideas into reality. Or some mega projects, once started, never finish, Peshawar, Bus Rapid Transit is an example. Result, projects did not materialize, country and its people could not get any benefit.
From another aspect, let’s consider Lahore Orange Line projects. It’s a massive mega project, and successfully implemented too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great project, benefiting hundreds of thousands of people every day. Credit must be given to the then government/administration fort conceiving and implementing these complex projects. Orange Line is expected to cost US$ 1.6 billion, for a 26-kilometer distance and at peak would serve 250,000 people every day. Very cost effective, great convenience and time saving project for its users. But do we realize that of the total cost US$ 1.3 billion is foreign exchange i.de. debt. Agreed that its users will enjoy the ride and will save time and money too. But is that really the priority of its intended riders? Or they would rather have more work opportunities, more and affordable education/training opportunities for their kids and/or more and better health care facilities first. Building a big well-equipped hospital is always a great and noble objective but when patients are dying giving them vaccines using basic health units and dispensaries is more effective and time efficient.
Also, from macroeconomic perspective no or very small foreign exchange component i.e. foreign debt.
Making a similarly sized financial investment focused on developing local human resources, supporting local small and medium size industry, targeting multiple but smaller projects achievable entirely thru local technical and human resources would not save but actually earn foreign exchange, provide employment opportunities to thousands, and would have spin off positive impacts on overall economy. These smaller projects would also have shorter turnaround times benefiting people quickly.
Question here is not on the intention of the decision makers but on setting the right priorities. Our decision makers, instead of targeting few huge, big ticket projects that are more complex, have more challenges, require more finances, and have longer turnaround times, should focus on large number of micro level, small to medium size projects that directly affect the bottom line i.e. quick turnaround, usage of local resources, employment opportunities, increased income and more taxes for the exchequer.
We should consider:
- Starting small sized run of the water hydro power plants for local consumption
- Starting small size wind power plants for remote villages/towns
- Setting up export quality Getting an AliExpress or Alibaba like online export portal
- Focusing on acquiring PayPal like alternate gateway
- Commercializing small sized biogas plants
- Running smaller trains on shorter lengths of tracks that are already existing
- Operating trains consisting of fewer bogies that can be pulled by local made railway engines
- Setting up of export quality meats, vegetable, fruits processing plants
- Setting up small call/tech support centers for international companies
The above are just few ideas from the writer who does not claim to know all and everything. With the right policies, direction and focus and using the resources at hand any government can gather knowledgeable experts and identify innumerable projects that:
- Can be started very quickly
- Do not require huge funds
- Do not require much foreign exchange
- Utilize local resources
- Provide job opportunities to locals
Also why look towards the government for everything. Tons of similar opportunities can be identified by local entrepreneurs and businesses and projects can be started that are not only beneficial for the community but are also profitable. Idea is to take the first step.
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December 31, 2019
The writer is a professional marketer and engineer with good work exposure to governments, and businesses and industries in the private sector in several countries. Idea is to take the first step in adding value to anything that one gets exposed to instead of just complaining about the same.