– ROBAIRD O’CEARBHAILL
Being Polish for the vast part of the population means being Catholic. They are not just practicing their faith but ninety per cent of them declare themselves officially as Catholic. The fact that they are one of the few countries to have produced a Pope is a sign of the depth of their adherence to the Church. John Paul II was historically a very significant, influential pope by helping end the suffering of the Cold War Soviet era in Eastern Europe. He was notably inspiring also to Catholics around the world. Polish people under his time in office, by their arduous, unpredictable, peaceful transformation to democracy showed that peace worked. Their success was the example and encouragement to other Soviet occupied nations how to take their own struggles in hand properly which they did as the Soviet Union allowed formerly independent countries to separate at will.
Marcin Bania, the City Hall head specialist in Zabrze City, Poland’s largest metropolitan area in terms of population, is as importantly a devoted Catholic and family man. O Clarim interviewed him briefly at the Hong Kong 2019 Belt and Road Summit and by telephone from his office in Poland.
Tell us why you have a very dynamic plan to expand the city metropolis and fitting it into the Belt and Road Initiative.
We are now the biggest metropolitan population area in Poland, around 2.3 million whereas the capital Warsaw has 1.7 million. We are providing a pristine area, very clean area, ten minutes from the city centre very near the motorway opposite across the road from our new (high-end industry) Special Economic Zone, all around a golf course. It’s on its own too, there’s no similar area in the region. We are providing residences for wealthy people but lower incomes, too. It’s a mix of various types of people.
So it won’t just be residential. It is connected to the partly foreign investment Special Industrial Zone.
Yes, the plan is to [maintain it as] a tax exemption zone. Not just residences. The area is large – two hundred and twenty acres, and we are constructing schools (international schools included), offices, a hotel and a medical centre and of course expanding public transport, extending the tram and bus routes. This will be special: a city within a city.
As you used to work in the Polish Overseas Investment Agency in Warsaw and were recently in the Hong Kong Belt and Road Summit, you are looking for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) aren’t you?
Both foreign investment and Polish national investment. We have an attractive area not just for foreign companies but others from other parts of Poland. Poland is very investor friendly (the figures show it) our Foreign Direct Investment is third in Europe (even though we are the sixth biggest economy and in population).
How did Poland get there? What are Zabrze’s economic attractions?
We are in the European Union, the largest market in the world. Our GDP was over five per cent last year, the second in Europe. We have stable taxation and attractive conditions. We bring in and have our own tight companies here. We are in Silesia, the most industrialised area of Poland. People know our reputation of having highly skilled industrial staff and hard workers with strong work ethics. Look at our tertiary education, we are well-educated. Over twenty-five per cent of the population are university degree holders. Transforming after Soviet rule was a tremendous challenge but our unemployment now is 4.7 percent, down from 20 percent when heavy industry era slowed down. Here in Zabrze we are transforming into a Research and Development economy and we are an important medical centre. We have five hospitals and we have the best cardiology centre in Poland.
What are the investment strategies for the ErgoCity and the city’s Special Economic Zone? How much interest do you have in China’s Belt and Road? It must be strong because you were at the Hong Kong Belt and Road Summit?
We made good contact at the summit and outside. We have good connections and [ongoing business dialogue too] with Chinese banks, Chinese developers and Chinese companies. We have here a South Korean company bought by a Chinese company. Connections for Poland with China for export and import are strong. Trains leave from here to and back from China and many ships come here from China. Our imports from China are higher than exports but our exports are doing well. We very much want to develop the connections. We have done studies to look at financing from there. We are considering [welcoming] all kinds of cooperation whether it be joint venture or private public operations. We are already talking with several developers and have flexible experience with foreign investors. We can either sell land or collaborate. We are open-minded, we are open to adjust to developers’ needs.
How important has Catholic education been for you?
Catholic education is very important: connectivity, ethics, our values in daily life at work. Interaction is so important. We must treat people with respect. We cannot treat people as inferior.
Poland is a very staunchly Catholic country isn’t it. Almost all of you identify with being first and foremost Catholic, don’t you?
Yes we are. We are ninety-five percent Catholic and people declare themselves [officially to be so]. We are well treated.
You are a strong family man aren’t you? Executives like you have often long hours. How do you distribute time between family and work?
Family is first but isn’t easy. I always reserve time for family. I have flexible hours. I can take time off for family matters. I can then replace the hours the next day at work. Where I work at City Hall has (sympathetic) family rules to allow us to take time off. Not like in a corporation which is more difficult. In City Hall life is connecting to family. We combine family and professional life. It makes life one both sides are satisfied.
Poland had a peaceful transforming from Soviet to Polish rule and under Pope John Paul II how was that done?
We kept away from violence and had what we called the “round table” where we the Solidarity movement of ten million members were able to sit down with the government to discuss the rules of the elections. The authorities knew that military force would not work and that not many people would support that. Talks are better than violence. Even if official privileges were maintained better than having tanks. Good things came from the way it was done. The Soviet Union did not think end was only two or three years later.
Tell us about your best successes in work.
Number one would be the development of the Special Economic Zone which began as agricultural production operations. Then we obtained the European Union fund and promoted it in international fairs.
Number two in Warsaw (as a senior project manager) for the Polish Investment and Trade Agency. Our attractive offers brought in a billion Euros in Foreign Direct Investment.