Egyptian tycoon eyes big investment in Pakistan

Naguib Sawiris calls for removal of bureaucratic hurdles, says his company ready to help govt build five million houses

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ISLAMABAD: Egyptian businessman and billionaire Naguib Sawiris addressed a press conference on Monday after a long meeting with the prime minister about making investments in Pakistan.

Updating the attendees on his company’s luxurious housing scheme ‘Eighteen’, he began by reminiscing the time he first invested in Pakistan in 2002 and called it the “honeymoon period” for his company.

“We had a good government at the time, good ministers and there was no corruption and no time lags,” Sawiris, Chairman of Ora Developers, said. “Those five years for us were the honeymoon period in Pakistan.”

In the progress of Eighteen, he said his company was now experiencing several hurdles in the way.

“Now we have to convince certain state institutions to give up land for residential development and now there are a lot of bureaucratic delays as well. I don’t want to complain because I have already discussed this with the prime minister today. It is not that some institutions or ministers refuse to give up land or something, but there are just so many bureaucratic hurdles that need to be resolved. They tell us to bring a document, we take it, and then they want another…and so on.”

He said that he wants to repeat real estate projects like Eighteen in Pakistan and also intends to acquire land with guarantees of payments to investors, and come up with plans such as regular deductions from the salaries of government employees in return for low-cost housing etc.

Sawiris joked that the best way for a civil servant to avoid any blame is to not do anything at all because then there will be no complaints. “This needs to change if you want to move forward. We are willing to expand businesses and investment only if we resolve some bureaucratic hurdles and we have discussed that with the prime minister.”

He further said that he spoke with PM Imran about low-cost housing in Pakistan, adding that such projects create a lot of employment in the country.

“Low-cost housing does not earn a lot of profits so not many people want to invest in it. But we want to do it. Our target is to provide housing for Pakistani 3-4 million rupees, but that depends on your government, whether they give us free land, make the process go quicker, and also let up build higher buildings because the higher you go, the lower it costs. I told the prime minister to let us do it. Even if [the government] is able to do it, they will do it in say five years, but I can provide it in two,” he added.

He said that his company is also going to be one of the bidders for the privatization of the SME bank. “We will be the highest bidders because we don’t consider Pakistan a risk. Also, if there are more businesses for me here, I will have more reasons to come here and bring more investments too.”

For direct housing, he said, “The people here told me they need a month to streamline the processes and I gave them two. For instance, if I keep bringing $2 billion each year for an Eighteen project in every city in Pakistan, that will help the economy and also allow the government to achieve its low-cost housing promises.”

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