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Resource rich or poor
By: Waqar Gillani

Some experts believe that universities in Pakistan have failed in modernising engineering schools and developing the required institutions that can help exploit the full potential of our natural resources.

The brain-drain in the country is quite obvious as hundreds of engineers and doctors are leaving for greener pastures every year.

Kaiser Bengali, a noted economist of Pakistan, believes that Pakistan lacks expertise, almost in every field, and mainly in specialised fields. “There are no courses in Pakistani universities about natural resource management and their economics. Unfortunately, no such discipline exists in our universities,” he says. “The focus of our universities is limited in different segments and students are not prepared for wider applications.”

Bengali mentions that now technology is specific to each resource and specialisations are required. “This lack of capacity makes you dependent on foreign expertise. Natural resources economics needs to be taken care of properly,” he points out.

He suggests that Pakistan should follow the Saudi Arabian model for managing natural resources and utilising expertise. “Pakistan should study the Saudi Arabian model. They set up local companies and then hire experts from abroad. This way you manage the resources directly rather than fully relying on foreign expertise. Even the foreigners are treated as employees of that local company. And in this way each individual is responsible to the company,” he says.

The relationship between exploitation of natural resources and economic growth can be complicated and controversial. Some researches provide evidence of the contribution of natural resources to economic growth of Pakistan, using data from 1975 to 2006, according to a study conducted by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

90 per cent resources are manually excavated. The procedure destroys the resources, too.

There were some efforts during Pervez Musharraf’s regime to develop a strong link between the industries and universities in the country to enhance local expertise and to better utilise them.

“We cannot develop and utilise local expertise thoroughly without developing industry-academia linkages,” says a former vice chancellor of a national engineering university, tellsTNS, asking not to be named.

“There are huge amounts of natural resources in Pakistan and expertise is available but what is needed is a rhythm in this linkage and reliance. We also need capital to utilise the available expertise and develop them further. If we are able to mobilise local expertise, only then will be able to handle natural resources of the country,” he believes.

Bengali points out that old standards of excavation and digging are still applied in the mining sector. He gives examples of the mining sector in Balochistan where local contractors use the old method of blasting as the only way to dig up the resources.

“We have enormous resources in Balochistan but still the local focus is on livestock. We need to think in terms of graduating from agricultural resources to the economy of natural resources, creating a range of skills — from technical to managerial and entrepreneurial. And the government has a big role in it,” he says.

He advocates for a change in the governance structures of the mining sector, giving leases to experts and not local tribes just to politically accommodate them.

In the mining industry, 90 per cent resources are manually excavated. The procedure destroys the resources, too. “Individual lease holders should be replaced by corporate lease holders through a revised governance structure where local and tribal lease holders should be given due share,” Bengali suggests.

In 2012, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned that poor management of natural resources and corruption has had a destructive impact on the Asian region’s ecological systems. A year earlier, a 2011 report of ADB says Pakistan could live without foreign reliance and improve its economy which is in bad shape of mismanagement.

“It is not about the standards of expertise but, mainly, it is about how this country and its relevant government bodies utilise local experts for the betterment of the country,” says Arshad H Abbasi, senior advisor to the Islamabad-based SDPI.

He says local experts are hardly given any value in the country due to various reasons. “Irrelevant people occupy important spaces and there is a mindset of accepting ‘professional suggestions’ and advices,” he says.

“The solution lies in following the basic principles of openness and transparency in democracy,” he believes.

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.