The Man Steering Pakistan's Economy Isn't Afraid to Take Risks

The Man Steering Pakistan's Economy Isn't Afraid to Take Risks

Asad Umar’s expertise in hazardous materials should come in handy for his new job: managing Pakistan’s economy. When the nation’s new finance minister was told two decades ago he couldn’t import chemicals through a Karachi port because of its storage terminal’s weak safety standards, he just went and built a new unit himself. Back then, he was a senior official at Engro Corp., where he eventually worked his way up the ranks to chief executive officer and turned the company from largely a fertilizer maker into one of the nation’s biggest conglomerates. Shamsuddin Shaikh, who heads up Engro’s energy arm and worked for Umar for almost 18 years, says the storage unit shows how his former boss was willing to find unconventional approaches to meet challenges. He “reaches to the bottom of the problem” and has an attention to detail, skills that make the 57 year-old right for the job, Shaikh said. In his new role, Umar has no shortage of problems to fix. A borrowing binge has left the South Asian nation in need of a bailout of more than $12 billion, he said in an interview last month. Most analysts expect new Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former cricket legend, will soon be knocking on the door of the International Monetary Fund once again. Foreign-currency reserves have plunged by a third to $9.9 billion in the past year, while the nation is running twin deficits of more than 5 percent of gross domestic product on both its current account and budget. Authorities have devalued the rupee four times since December. Read More: Why Pakistan Is on the Road to Another IMF Bailout “What needs to be done should be done in the next few weeks,” Umar said in an interview in Islamabad just before his official appointment in August. “They should have been done six months back.” Beyond the immediate crisis, Umar must also try to fix decades of economic boom-and-bust cycles, an over-reliance on debt-funding and income tax avoidance in a country where less than 1 percent of its more than 200 million people file returns. At the same time, he has to deliver on the prime minister’s pledge to boost welfare spending. Umar wants to quickly get the business and investment community on side. One of his first steps since taking office was to set up advisory councils reporting directly to the prime minister where firms and economists can provide their input on policies. But that’s already run into controversy after pressure from religious conservatives forced a prominent economist from a Muslim minority sect to resign from one of the councils last week. Umar has faced criticism for staying silent on the issue.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-12/the-man-steering-pakistan-s-economy-isn-t-afraid-to-take-risks