Omer Abbas Jillani Narrates Reasons,Factors Behind Tremendous Success Of Pak Oasis
Ommer Abbas Jillani is the Managing Director of Pakistan Oasis Industries. As MD of the company, he led it to become one of the leading water solutions provider within a very short span of time. He founded the company in 2004 with just four plans, which progressed tremendously under his leadership to become one of the leading water technology providers of the whole region.
Pakistan Oasis Industry is know in water sector for its cutting-edge technology, specialization in water filtration and desalination, sanitation system and disaster relief and above all for being most economical in providing safe and clean drinking water as compared to its competitors.
Pak Oasis has grown rapidly from its humble beginning due to its instant success in the industry and today is one of the region’s leading turnkey water solution providers, specializing in water filtration, sanitation systems and disaster relief. Founded in 2004 with just four plants, Pak Oasis now boasts over 1,500 projects, a network of more than 3,000 highly skilled technical staff and engineers, and many years of experience in the successful operation and management of thousands of water treatment plants. Pak Oasis has outdone its competitors for being most economical, efficient and effective.
Pak Oasis is one of the largest Original Equipment Manufacturers of turnkey UF, NF and RO plants, working closely with the best technology providers in order to pioneer the delivery of world-class equipment at extremely competitive prices. It is certified OEM partners in Water Desalination, Filtration and Sewage Treatment and authorized distributors for Grundfos, Dow and FSI, and suppliers of Lorentz’s solar-powered equipment. We had a detailed chat with its Managing Director Ommer Abbas Jillani for National Transparency. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
National Transparency: Tell us about your early life and schooling and how you ventured into water technology business.
Omer Abbas Jillani: I had gone to Habib School for early education and after school education got admission in D. J. College. As my mom wanted me to become a doctor so I got admission in Dow Medical College. The day when I went to college to get my Enrolment Card, there was a fight going on between two students’ wings of different political parties. I was standing near the scene of the fight, when a man approached me and asked to which party do I belong? I replied that today is my first day in the college and I had nothing to do with any party. Then I went back to home and told the whole story to my mother. She said that ok no problem she will sort it out. My younger brother was studying in the US so I was sent to US for study. As my father was in government service, my mom was working as interior designer and architect , so she supported me in my studies and my maternal grandfather, who was in pharmaceutical business, also supported me. So I did my graduation from George Washington University, USA. With the grace of Allah Almighty, soon after graduation I was offered a job based in Switzerland in a US company, which was world’s second largest cigarette manufacturer. I did that job for eight long years and rose to the position of its Region’s Head and Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh were also falling under the region I was heading. Then they sent me to Pakistan as a country manager. As US cigarette brands had not much demand in Pakistan, their brand also failed here, following which they asked me to relocate to Saudi Arabian. In the meantime I got married and asked my bosses to shift me to Duabi instead of Saudi Arabia. Upon which, my boss said that either you had to go to Saudi Arabia or resign from the job. So I was in a difficult situation and asked them to give me distribution of their cigarette brand. So I started distribution of their cigarette brand. As distribution is a capital-insentive business so gave me a favour by giving cigarette on credit. They handed over a containers loaded of the cigeratte brand and thus is started my business. When I returned the distribution of the brand, I was selling some 222 containers of the cigarette. Though no one from my family except my maternal grandfather was in business, I was very successful as had the basic know how of the business.
Till then I had developed contacts with many local people in the regions and have a brother-like close Arab friend, Saad. So we decided to invest in water sector and made some investment in Dubai-based water company and following that we opened a brand named as Pak Oasis in Pakistan. We also entered into partnership with a company, Shelak. In 2004, In the meantime, we started distribution business of a foreign biscuit’s brand, then entered into a joint venture with a UK company, maker Pekki cake. After that we started RO plants business.
NT: Tell us about the start of Pak Oasis and what necessitated the launch of the company especially the business of RO plants.
OAJ: It was back in 2004. Supply of clean and safe drinking water has been a major issue in Tharparker. Though the problem has been addressed to a greater extent, but at that time there was a water crisis in Thar and Arbab Ghulam Rahim Sahib was chief minister of the province. Till then, the idea of desalination of water through Reverse Osmosis was a new, so we first introduced the RO technology here and installed a few RO plants for treating under-ground brackish water to turn it into safe and clean drinking water. We had very humble beginning, but Allah Almighty had bestowed us great successes. When the then Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim came to inaugurate fist RO plant in Thar, he was very impressed by its success and remarked that it was a very successful project. So on the occasion, he announced another 25 RO plants for the area. These plants are still in operation in the area and supply safe and clean dinking water to the inhabitants of the remote desert area. At the very outset of the business, besides quality our focus has been on affordability and economical aspect. We tried our level best to supply water at economical rate thus outdoing our competitors. We tried to provide clean and safe water at the rate below than the market price and we were successful in our goal which made it difficult for our competitors to compete us in rate and technology.
The plants running in Islamkot and Matiar were installed during that period. These plants were approved and got installed by Arbab Rahim government. Later, when government was changed after 2008 general election, Arbab Sahib raised the issue of RO plants, arguing that these plants were installed at inflated and high prices. It was interesting that he tried to create an issue out of the RO plants project, which he had himself approved and appreciated as successful.
NT: How you manage capital for establishing the company, which later registered tremendous growth and progress within a short period of 10 years?
OAJ: When I was in Dubai, I was also in real estate business. Islamic banks used to finance house construction and paying back the loan start after construction of the house. To mention this here is also necessary as Dubai helped me a lot in arranging and earning the initial finance for setting up the company. For obtaining financing from conventional bank, you had to pay 5 percent of the total amount. So I had purchased a house at 8,40000 Dirham. Five percent of it comes to 70,000 dirham so I purchased two houses at one lakh and fourty thousands dirham. Later I sold these two houses at double price. So I bought some 21 houses in Abu Dhabi through the transaction from the sale of these two houses and the money I had earned from distribution of US-based company’s cigarette brand. I was lucky to sell these houses in early 2007 and 2008, as just three months after the sale of my houses, UAE’s real estate market crashed. It was the timing and more than that my luck which went in my way. Through this amount I set up a food company in Pakistan. In water business, Saad was my first partner while my second partner is Murad Kulker and except these two I have no partner in the business. So this is how I manage to arrange finance to start my business.
NT: How you manage to win the favour of incumbent Sindh government, as the government has awarded your company the contracts for installing RO plants in different areas of the province?
OAJ: After 2008 general elections, PPP formed government in Sindh and the centre. The provincial government scrutinized my work in detail and after detailed scrutiny and investigation they came to the conclusion that the company was doing a great job. Till then I had no meeting with Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah or Asif Ali Zardari. I first met them at a ceremony to inaugurate an RO plant. Basically, the quality and rates of our company are such that our competitors could not compete us. Our rates are not just Sindh-secific, rather we will be offering the same rate in Punjab.
NT: Here a question arises as whether the 25 RO plants awarded to Pak Oasis by Arbab Rahim government were complete and operational when PPP came into power?
OAJ: We had only the contract of the mechanical work and civil work of the 25 RO plants had been awarded to other contractor. So my answer will be that the work was complete on that RO plants but Pak Oasis had not carried out the civil work.
NT: Were the prevalent rate offered for those 25 RO plants?
OAJ: Yes, rates were the same. And we try to maintain uniform rates everywhere. But when the contract is for desalination of sea water, then definitely the rate will vary. I will request you to just login into internet and search for rate of water being offered in different countries, you will not find the rate we are offering in any part of the world.
NT: If this is the case then people will raise question that how it is possible to offer purified, safe and clean drinking water at such economical rate?
OAJ: Yes, this question will bother the people. But it’s not about we are doing any charity or selling water at lower rate than the cost. Its all about sale volume, the greater your volume of supply the smaller the price will be. Actually, if you sale is high then a small margin will be viable. So Alhamdulilah, our supply volume is so high that the small margin is turned into a good profit.
NT: You will certainly have braved inquiries and scrutiny following PPP’s emergence in the provincial government.
OAJ: Yes off course, we have had their people including MNAs and MPAs to inquire and scrutinize our operations and projects. Our work is purely technical and it’s easy to say that we were granted contracts. But not a single contract we got without the due process and procedure laid down in Public Procurement Regulatory Authority’s rules. We won the contracts in open bidding as per PEPRA rules. At first, our family inspect the quality and standard of work on the project. We carry out due diligence of our projects through the firm of Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and we has the report of due diligence. The process is still going on.
NT: It means you have a lot of pressure regarding the work.
OAJ: Yes, you may say. And the other thing is that the environment and area we are working is very challenging. And we have also to satisfy our conscious as the business we are in is directly related to people’s health and we immediately receive its reaction. So we try our best to ensure quality of our work and provide safe and clean drinking water to the masses.
NT: How many contracts Sindh government has awarded to Pak Oasis?
OAJ: So far Sindh government has awarded six contracts, upon which were are currently working. Out of these contracts, the major project is of Tharparker, where a total of 750 RO plants are to be installed under the contracted project.
We have won numerous awards for quality of work and contribution in ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water, which is a basic human right as per US General Assembly’s resolution. The Thar RO plant is the largest project of the world which is being run on solar power. Recently, we had a delegation of European Union to inspect our solar-powered RO plants projects, as the Union is mulling to fund water projects in Africa. Like here, in Africa too there are energy shortage and other problems which are here. We gave them a pilot project to pump out water through solar energy. Pakistan is being credited for the solar-powered project. Here I consider it worth mentioning that many people used to ask me as to why I named my company as Pak Oasis and I should have some international name so it will help me in business promotion and development. But my response is simple, whether I get any edge or not due to the name, Pakistan is my identity and I will be recognized through Pakistan irrespective of how much efforts I do to doff my that identity.
NT: Some of Pak Oasis’s competitors companies alleged that advance payments were made to Pak Oasis against the contracted projects. How much veracity is in these allegation and what is the criteria of fund release to Pak Oasis against the government’s contracted projects? And there are many whispering that Pak Oasis worked extensively with Karachi Water and Swerage Board (KWSB) in its projects.
OAJ: At present, there are seven companies which are working on government’s water projects and Pak Oasis is not the only one. In Sindh, Green Power and Evergreen have also been awarded contracts of water plants projects. As far as the issue of advance payment is concerned, it is paid as per contract agreement. And advance payment is made to many other companies too in the shape of mobilization charges. We have completed our projects successfully and are in the business for the last 10 years. So there is nothing being offered to Pak Oasis as extraordinary concession. In KWSB projects, 10 percent of the projected cost is allowed to be paid in advance as mobilization. If you have a Rs12 billion projects, then as per rules your are entitled to payment of Rs 1.2 billion in advance as mobilization. However, KWSB allowed only 4 percent advance as mobilization to Pak Oasis and we completed the projects, but yet to be released the pending amounts.
NT: You mean that Pak Oasis is meted out the treatment meted out to other companies and no out of the way concession?
OAJ: Yes, off course. Some of our competitors went to high court against us, but the higher judiciary not only threw out their cases but also imposed heavy fine on them. There are total 12 companies working in Pakistan in the water sector and you should check their status. In 2013, National Accountability Bureau awarded Pak Oasis certificate for best performance while it sought record from our competition for shady operations.
NT: Can you share with how much projects, in percentage term, have been awarded to Pak Oasis in Pakistan or Sindh?
OAJ: All over the country some six thousands plants were tendered and seven companies were awarded the contracts to install the plants. Out of these, there are hardly 100 plants which are operational. Some Rs10 billion had been paid to the companies in advance for mobilization, but there is not 100 plants on the grounds. National Accountability Bureau is investigating the scam and it has also submitted it in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In contrast, Alhamdulilah our projects are very much on ground and are operation, supplying clean and safe drinking water to the people. Have you ever heard of any complaint from Keamari and Lyari, where we have installed RO plants, regarding non-supply of water from the plants?
NT: What are the future plans for Pakistan?
OAJ: I try my level best to train as much human resources from Pakistan as I can. If the multi national companies are hiring two lack people in water sector and a French company had over three lakh employees and Pak Oasis has 3800 employees at present, what restrain me to employ 3 lakh Pakistanis to provide them job. If we can provide them job through our companies, then we will proceed with that to provide employment to the jobless youth of our country. Actually, out company belong to people and neither I nor my chief executive Irshad Sahib have no concerns in the company.
NT: Tell us how much support you are getting from federal and Sindh government for completion of the ongoing projects?
OAJ: As for as Federal or Sindh government are concerned, they are doing for the people whatever they can do. They are under obligation to serve their people and they should strive hard to better serve the people. If you run Metro Bus, some one and half lakh people benefit from this. But our only 60 percent projects have so far been completed and some 3 million people are benefiting from them. If the projects are completed, then over 5.5 million people will be drinking safe and clean drinking water daily.
NT: People say that for that last five year no KWSB project was approved without your consultancy?
OAJ: Baseless propaganda. We have zero concerns with KWSB. Except the few RO plant in Keamari and Lyari , we installed, we had no work whatsoever with KWSB during the last five years.