By Ashfaq Ahmed, Chief Reporter
Dubai: The government should concentrate on solving the problems faced by the Pakistanis living abroad instead of treating them as merely money “remittance machines,” Pakistan’s Envoy At Large said.
“The true potential of overseas Pakistanis (OPs) have been ignored over the years despite the fact that they are the major contributors to the economy … as they send huge remittances every year,” Dubai-based Ambassador at Large to Pakistan Javed Malek said.
Malek has recently been given the mandate by Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani to interact with OPs and revamp the Overseas Pakistani Foundation (OPF) – a body established in 1979 for the welfare of OPs, but which so far has performed poorly.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Malek revealed Pakistan’s plan to tackle and hopefully remove some of the difficulties facing overseas Pakistanis and the new mandate given to him as Member of the Board of the Foundation.
He said he has formed an Overseas Pakistanis Council, which will have noted Pakistani expatriates as its members and the body will directly interact with the authorities concerned.
Malek also talked about his role as Ambassador at Large and his mission of public diplomacy to improve the image of Pakistan by establishing people-to-people and business-to-business contacts.
Following are excerpts from the interview.
Gulf News: What are the major issues OPs face, particularly in Gulf countries?
Javed Malek: Problems that are faced by Pakistanis are different in different countries. But their major issues are education of their children back home, healthcare, retirement plans, and housing back home.
Since expatriates working the Gulf have to go back at some stage, they are in desperate need of such facilities, which are badly lacking.
Who is supposed to solve these issues?
It is the responsibility of the OPF which is a government body established in 1979 with the sole aim of the welfare of the Pakistanis who go abroad to work to safeguard their rights.
But unfortunately, it has remained largely unable to reach its potential due a variety of reasons.
We are now working on plans to revamp the OPF to make it an effective body.
What is being done to improve the plight of OPs?
The prime minister attaches a lot of importance to the OPs and therefore, he has established a Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis, separating it from the Ministry of Labour and Manpower.
The aim of this ministry is to take a fresh look at the issues facing OPs, and evolve policies which are relevant to the modern day needs of the OPs.
We have also formed the Overseas Pakistanis Forum which will provide representation of noted Pakistanis from around the world.
What will be the role of Overseas Pakistanis Forum?
The main aim of the forum is to provide an opportunity to OPs to have their say in policies related to them. Policies should not be evolved by people sitting in an office in Islamabad without due consultation.
The forum will be presided over by the federal minister for OPs and presided over by myself.
The forum will comprise of members of the OP community so that they have a direct access to the decision makers.
Through this forum I hope that I will be able to give a voice to the OPs in the decision making.
The members of this forum will be professionals, businessmen, and community leaders drawn from among the community.
What is your mandate as member of the Board of Governors of the OPF?
In my role as an Ambassador to OPs I am starting by engaging and interacting with the OP community living worldwide. I have called this campaign “Listening to Overseas Pakistani Community.”
Since I am myself an OP therefore, it makes it easier for me to understand the issues, because I have faced them too.
The biggest issue right now is that the OPs feel that no one is listening to them. They are working worldwide, sending their remittances to support the country’s economy, but they want to do more.
So, we will start by “listening” to them so that I can better understand their concerns, and then advise the prime minister, The federal minister, and board of governors on the issues being faced ‘on the ground.’
What is your role as Ambassador at Large?
Being an Ambassador at Large, I have been working on a number of initiatives. I facilitated Friends of Pakistan meetings in the UAE and have also established Pakistan International Council, which is public diplomacy initiative to have people-to-people and business-to-business contacts in addition improving the image of the country and introducing the country’s culture abroad.
My main task is to interact with people abroad to improve cultural, educational, political, and business relations.
How will you bridge the gap between the OPs and the government?
I am going to organise an OP convention for Pakistanis based in the Gulf countries.
The convention, which will be held in the UAE later this year, will have representatives from all key ministries and some political leaders so that they can directly interact with the community and provide solutions.
Specific policies for education, healthcare, housing, repatriation, and pension schemes will also be announced at the convention.
Building a house back home is one of the major concerns, yet they have been ditched a number of times by the OPF housing schemes. Why?
Every Pakistani worker who leaves the country for employment carries a dream of making a house in Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the OPF to provide workable housing schemes.
We will admit that this goal has not been achieved, and the OPF has fallen short in the past. We intend to start workable public-private partnerships to meet these needs.
We realise that there is no room for more mistakes, and the OPF has suffered major image crises due to the lack of provision in the past. All of that will be changed.
Is there any move to address the educational needs of children of OPs who send their families back home?
The OPF has the mandate to address the educational needs of OPs and their families.
Several schools, colleges, and institutions are being run by OPF, we are also looking into establishing Pakistani schools and colleges overseas which offer quality education to OP children. I am looking into the possibility of opening a graduation college for Pakistani here and am trying to bring some leading Pakistanis schools to the UAE.
How are you going to spread Pakistani culture abroad and have intercultural dialogue?
Lack of services at Pakistani Embassies and consulates has caused a lot of concern among the community and the shortage of staff is a major contributing factor.
It is our intention to establish modern and service-oriented Pakistan Culture and Advice Centres and libraries in association with the OPF.
The aim is to support the community by providing advice, assistance, and services on cultural, educational, housing, social and welfare needs of expatriate Pakistanis.
These centres will also offer training programmes in association with host governments to strengthen the skilsl level of the expatriate workers so that they can contribute positively to their host country.
Any plans to facilitate Pakistani businessmen in the UAE and other Gulf countries?
Many OPs have established themselves in business, and they intend to expand their business to Pakistan.
The OPF has the frame work to assist them, however like many of its projects these services have also not evolved as was intended. The OPF will be made more effective in coordination with Ministries of Investment, Commerce and Finance to meet the needs of OP businessmen.
Are you working on any plans to help rehabilitate Pakistanis going back home after losing jobs abroad?
We intend to initiate swift and services-oriented services for OPs when they return home either on a visit or to relocate.
OPs welcome desks at airports will be strengthened and I have held discussions with the officials concerned to offer quality services at airports.
The government should put in place a comprehensive ‘repatriation plan’ to help returning Pakistanis restart their lives and businesses.
At the age of 35, Javed Malek is a prominent overseas Pakistani businessman, corporate lawyer, and noted media personality based in the UAE.
He was appointed Ambassador at Large by the current Pakistan People’s Party government and has recently been made a member of the Board of Governors of the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation.
Malek received his education in the United Kingdom and practised as a corporate lawyer there, too. Additionally Malek also worked with the British Parliament and its leading Members of Parliament, advising them on issues relating to the Muslim world and Pakistan.
He has also served as an executive director of The World Forum, which organised international conferences in London and the UAE on prevailing global issues.
He also hosts and anchors a show on international affairs called Insight which broadcast on a leading Pakistani Urdu television channel.
He is the founding president of the British Asian Youth Alliance, vice-president of the European Muslims Organisation, as well as president of the Pakistan International Council.
July 20, 2009