Billionaire pledges his fortune for aid

Tom Hussain, Foreign Correspondent of The National

ISLAMABAD // Malik Riaz Hussain, a billionaire Pakistani developer, has responded to the misery of millions of his flood-stricken compatriots by pledging to spend 75 per cent of his fortune on rebuilding their lives.

The extraordinary offer was made in a television interview in which he told how he had sent a letter before the floods to 100 of Pakistan’s most wealthy and powerful people asking them to pool money into a fund to repair homes, provide vocational training and extend microfinance loans to impoverished Pakistanis.

Mr Hussain is the chairman of Bahria Town, a US$6 billion (Dh22bn) urban development enterprise that has built gated communities for a million people in the central cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi.

A man rows a boat in floodwater in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab. Reinhard Krause / Reuters

Bahria Town has already responded to the current floods by vastly expanding a corporate social responsibility programme called dastarkhwan, or dining spread, to provide two meals a day to more than 150,000 flood refugees in inundated areas and free medical care at mobile hospitals.

Its housing projects, unrivalled in Pakistan as models of highly desirable but affordable suburban living, have revolutionised Pakistan’s real-estate sector over the last decade by targeting the previously untapped middle class, rather than the rich.

The huge popularity of the Bahria Town brand has made Mr Hussain, at the age of 62, one of a handful of Pakistanis believed to be billionaires in US dollar terms, although this cannot be verified as he has never released his tax records.

A man of unremarkable origins, Mr Hussain espouses traditional family values, and has expressed them in the modern family-friendly suburbs he has built.

Reproductions of famous landmarks, such as London’s Trafalgar Square, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, point to his aspirations for Pakistan, while beautiful mosques and Quranic calligraphy suggest that modernity is in harmony with Muslim beliefs.

Drawing on that experience, and with a fleet of 2,500 earth-moving machines, Mr Hussain sees the reconstruction of the almost one million homes destroyed or damaged in the floods as a matter of numbers.

Nearly all the destroyed homes have been simple two-room mud-brick constructs belonging to the poor that, by his reckoning, would cost 300,000 rupees each to rebuild, with enough left over to buy a few head of livestock.

“That’s all it will take to give them back their lives,” he said.

Mr Hussain quickly calculates aloud the maths and remarks that the requisite $3.5bn could easily be raised if Pakistan’s wealthy elite, named in his list of letter recipients, were to match his pledge of donating 75 per cent of his wealth with half of their personal fortunes.

However, his letter was not written as a desperate appeal to their better nature.

Rather, it issues a stern warning that the floods could exacerbate social tensions between Pakistan’s moneyed elite, a tiny percentage of the country’s 170 million people, and the impoverished half of the population that the United Nations said did not know where their next meal was coming from.

In the letter, Mr Hussain said the ostentatious lifestyles of Pakistan’s wealthy and their indifference to the plight of the poor were disturbingly reminiscent of social conditions before the French and Iranian revolutions, which occurred nearly 200 years apart.

“It is time that we realise our duty towards Pakistan. If we are unable to see the imminent consequences of our continued ignorance, I am scared that not only our families, but also our businesses, will fuel a bloody revolution,” Mr Hussain wrote.

“This is a clear warning to land barons, politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists to shed their sloth and wake up before all is lost, and there is no place to hide.”

Mr Hussain is not a conspiracy theorist; his prediction is based on his experience of housing orphan students from the Jamia Hafsa seminary in Islamabad, the setting in July 2007 for a bloody stand-off between security forces and militant clerics that ended in the deaths of more than 100 people.

The deaths of the students, many of them children from the Swat valley, caused nationwide outrage, decisively turned public opinion against Gen Pervez Musharraf, then the president, and ignited a Taliban insurgency that, until the success of military counteroffensives last year, threatened to overwhelm the government.

Mr Hussain says he has been deeply disappointed that his letter has failed to evince a single response to date, and is unhappy that his offer to place the Bahria Town fleet of earth-moving machinery at the government’s disposal has been ignored. “I have stepped in to help my people, but I cannot do this alone,” he said

But he is not a man accustomed to taking no for an answer, and has vowed to lobby those who have been sent the letter.

“At this time, what I need is support from fellow Pakistanis who, like me, have earned a fortune from the motherland and are indebted to it,” he said.

“Trust me, it’s time to pay back to our country.”

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Billionaire pledges his fortune for aid

  1. Hassan Bajwa

    Firstly i find it amazing that such a major offer of financial assitance has not been published or spoken of on any major pakistani news outlet… at least i have yet to come across it. It may be that our rulers would rather not have the people of pakistan getting wind of such an insane idea.

    Secondly, i am also ashamed at the complete lack of response from the bigwigs who earn their billions in pakistan but feel no sense of responsiblity for the many millions affected by the floods (or any other of the numerous natural and man-made calamities that befall our nation).
    I would think that our dear president, the sharifs and all of the feudal kings and queens who spend more on a pair of shoes than a poor family does on food in a year, should be standing in line to save their own countrymen.

    But, alas, such is not the case. They would instead rather get the loans and handouts from foreign nations to cover the expenses of rescuing and rehabilitating than spend their own cash. The global community is showing much greater concern and compassion for the people of pakistan than our leaders themselves.

    Yay for our rulers and their bloated bank accounts.

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  3. Ally

    Wow well done!!

  4. Hamid Khawaja

    Another hoax

  5. Israr

    He can recover it back from the same people once they restart their lives.

  6. Zainab Ali

    I fail to understand why people call everything a hoax? I believe this guy because his brilliance can be easily seen in the projects that he has completed so far. If he is offering 75 % of his fortunes then surely he has a big heart that realizes his duty to the country.

  7. ali hamdani

    A step towards a positive society and something that needs to be replicated, we all must come forward and help the flood victims with mutual understanding between citizens and donors.

  8. Sadia Hussain

    A commendable gesture by Malik Riaz, if the philanthropist in Pakistan step up for aid we can surely meet the deficit. However we must bear in mind the recent statement of USAID chief Rajiv Sha that for more aid to come we need to ensure transparency.

  9. Suvrat

    Highly commendable step. Hopefully many more will follow his footsteps