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Riyadh Community

By Pervaiz Imam

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, October 9, 2000 – Omar Asghar Khan, the Pakistan federal minister for labor, manpower and overseas Pakistanis addressed a gathering of the Pakistan community at the embassy hall on Friday, October 2, 2000 and then later in a question and answer session, he assured them that the government back home was concerned with the welfare programs of the overseas Pakistanis. To meet this objectives, we are streamlining the activities of the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) in Islamabad to serve them in a better way by giving them more facilities at the airport customs, facilitate admission of their children in professional institutions and colleges in Pakistan on priority basis.
The minister was here on a four days unofficial visit to the Kingdom. He was accompanied by the managing director of OPF, Rashid Mahmood Ansari. In addition to the minister and the managing director, at the dais were Lt. Gen. (retd.) Mohammed Asad Durrani, the ambassador of Pakistan to the Kingdom and Nadeem Arshad Kayani, embassy labor welfare officer. Other embassy officials present were Nawaz Choudhary, deputy head of mission and counselor Abdul Matin.
The minister was Jordan earlier to attend an international conference. He visited Kuwait before arriving in Riyadh on October 6, 2000 and plans to visit UAE on the same mission.
During the two-hour question and answer session, Omar was faced with a flurry of questions on various issues, concerning both day-to-day life in the Kingdom and matters back home. The issues included passport renewal at the Pakistan embassy, repatriation of dead body, children education, the plight of those Pakistanis in the Kingdom’s jails, remittances of earnings, pension scheme and the indifferent attitude of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) staff towards the passengers.
The visiting minister had no specific answer to most of these issues raised. However, he assured the people that the government would formulate a very comprehensive mechanism to deal with the labor problems.
Asked for his opinion on the most pressing issues raised by the overseas Pakistanis, Khan said, "basically the topics that are coming up are related to pension scheme, education of their children and investment in Pakistan. They want the pension scheme to be instituted." To this, he expressed hope saying that the government of Pakistan is working on it and hopefully the pension scheme will start within months.
Speaking about the education problem, Omar said most Pakistanis are concerned about the standard of education of community-run schools here and want improvement. Also, they want assurances on higher education for their children upon their return to Pakistan. He went to say that the government is trying to make provisions for the children of overseas Pakistanis, for their better education when they return home for good.
The other burning topic was about investment opportunities, he said, noting that the government is trying very hard to improve the investment climate in order to attract overseas Pakistanis to invest in Pakistan. He said that the Pakistani government would explore the possibility of setting up its branches of that country’s state-run banks in the Kingdom so as to expedite the process of remittances. He made this remark while answering a question on measure being taken by the government to reduce illegal money transactions such as Hundi or Hawala.
He also promised to recommend that PTV World broadcast educational programs for overseas Pakistanis. It may be mentioned here that there are between 700,000 and 800,000 Pakistanis working in different part of the Kingdom.
On the elections, the minister said that municipal elections will be held in Pakistan at all levels in December this year, while elections to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies and the Senate would be held in 2002. A transparent political system is being evolved in the country through which corrupt and infamous politicians and those who grabbed illegal money would be eliminated from elections. Only honest representatives would be sent to these assemblies to serve the people dedicatedly and sincerely, he said.
The minister further pointed out that so far Pak. Rs. 24 billion have been recovered from the corrupt people and the government is seeking cooperation of USA, UK and other European countries to facilitate in transferring illegally accumulated money by these politicians to Pakistan. He noted that several textile mills, which were lying dormant, have now been activated and brought into production. He hoped the export potential of the country would be increased by 19 percent in a year or so and the foreign exchange earnings would consequently record a substantial increase, he noted.
On the manpower, he said that the number of Pakistani workers, arriving in the Kingdom would rise by up to 80 percent compared to last year. By the end of June this year, 24,531 Pakistanis had been offered jobs of various categories in Saudi Arabia while for the whole period of 1999, a total of 27,945 visas were issued to the Pakistanis. He added that in his talks with the Saudi Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ali Al Namlah would center on furthering these contacts and on matter of mutual interest.
Responding to a question about his discussions with the Saudi authorities on the easing of restrictions over changes in profession on iqamas or residency permits; the minister said that the topic was already on the agenda of his meeting.
Later, the next day, bilateral ties on supply of manpower and related matters were discussed by Omar with his Saudi counterpart. The talks were held in harmonious and friendly atmosphere and a wide spectrum of labor-related matters were discussed between the two sides, in the presence of officials of their respective ministries. They also reviewed issues of mutual interest.

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