EDITORIAL: About time the government gave another thought to all the real estate it owns up and down the country, and how even restoring a vague semblance of professionalism towards managing it can earn it a lot of money every year. And the government knows better than anybody else, of course, that in times when a pandemic has sent the economy through the floor, every penny counts; it’s as simple as that. That is why the formation of what is called the Federal Government Properties Management Authority (FGPMA), aimed at dealing with the affairs of all government lands and properties across the country under one umbrella organisation, is a very welcome step. Such things are necessary to address issues like encroachment on public property, illegal occupation, corruption in government departments, and all that.
The problem is that this is not the first time that something like this is being tried. Successive administrations have tried everything under the sky, including sale of property, privatisation, public-private partnership (PPP) and lease, but not one thing has ever worked because no initiative was ever followed through properly after the initial headlines. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, too, made a lot of noise about it when it first stumbled upon this idea a couple of years ago, and even showed up at an expo of a private local company in Dubai to find expat bidders for idle federal property, but then the whole thing just fizzled out as always.
Hopefully, this time the effort won’t be discouraged by the stumbling blocks that are sure to come on the way. A lot of government land has not just been encroached upon, it has also become the de facto property of powerful land mafias and special interest groups, and one thing many of them have in common is using those lands for production, trade and smuggling of all sorts of illegal things. Everybody knows that these things don’t happen unless the people that do them have deep pockets and powerful connections. So, if history is any guide, the plug is usually pulled on such initiatives when one of them reaches for the telephone. There was even a time, not too long ago, when the Punjab governor mentioned his helplessness in front of qabza groups as one of the reasons for his resignation.
If the PTI government is really different from all the others – and in this particular case it hasn’t been so far – then it will have to move with great speed. Establishing the FGPMA is a good thing, but it is also the easy part. Making it happen will require very careful planning and execution, especially when it comes to choosing the right people for the right jobs. Otherwise this too, like a lot of other special initiatives and programmes, will become just another vehicle to promote corruption on a very large scale.
So far PTI has left a lot to be desired when it comes to honouring its promises, regardless of whether they were made before or after it came to power. It has, in fact, made something of a habit of either abandoning them half way or forgetting them altogether. Hopefully, this time it has done its homework and has the will to see it through. Because unless all leakages from the federal government are blocked one by one, and preferably completely turned around, ‘Naya Pakistan’ is just one more promise that PTI will not be able to keep. And it’s not like it has a lot of time before it must go looking for votes again, so whatever it plans to do should start happening very soon.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021