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Pakistan needs a “Charter for Business” for the next 20 years, with sanctity as crucial as that of a constitution. This charter must have the stamp of the Parliament and the National Security Council.

It needs to be above any political change or bias. This planning has to be foolproof, including the will and vision of all stakeholders, covering ‘investment climate’ with future projections and margin for disruption.

The objective of the entire policymaking needs to be facilitation for investors and enhancing the attractiveness of Pakistan as the best investment opportunity.

‘Special Investment Facilitation Council’ – the way forward—I

While developed economies are going all out to enhance investments, why Pakistan is still pondering over where to get loans from, working on an ad-hoc basis, with jumps and starts, for the last few decades, is a question that at least I do not have an answer to.

We may have friends in the region and around the globe, but no business partners. This is not the time and age for friendships without interests. I also believe that our foreign policy should be driven by economic interests alone. We have examples of the changed landscape of ME and need to follow in their footsteps. I have had countless meetings and have found my counterparts frustrated with the lack of a proactive approach at our end. We must address and resolve this issue; we have to commit to delivering. This is the time for ACTION and not deliberation.

The recent establishment of the SIFC – Special Investment Facilitation Council (its Apex, Executive, and Implementation Committees) is a source of glad tidings. I am happy that stakeholders have acknowledged the need of the hour – the need to support the investors with quick turnarounds.

I am especially optimistic about the Implementation Committee and the countless initiatives that can get expedited through it, as the execution of work is the weakest area in bureaucracy. But I do have some reservations and recommendations, and they come from no other source but my commitment to the State of Pakistan.

I am positively happy to note the role of the military, as that is the guarantee of implementation, as well as proactive initiation of new projects, over and above bureaucratic hurdles, but my concern stems from the transitory nature of the Council and its overlap with what is essentially the mission of the BOI.

Pakistan’s BOI remains non-performing, not only for the lack of permanent leadership, but also for an obsolete inherent structure that has inbuilt delays for recruitment of competent teams and quick decisions.

Reliability on the archaic Federal Public Service Commission has to end. The ‘BOI Ordinance’ definitely requires amendments to enhance its productivity, enabling recruitment of the best talent from across the landscape.

In my opinion, the real and long-term solution is the robust restructuring and empowerment of the BOI, like our counterparts in the CARs, ASEAN, and the ME. The BOI must become a swift, standardized, one-window operation for investors, as that will guarantee continuity, transparency, and accountability.

The chairmanship role should be ideally assigned to technocrats for their stronger involvement and networking in business affairs along with non-affiliation with any political interest.

The only visible difference that I see between the BOI and SIFC is the official role of the military and the induction of senior military officials in the SIFC. Instead of the BOI being positioned as the secretariat with a separate council controlling its affairs, it would be better to have the military join hands with the BOI and facilitate them in getting investments from the GCC countries so that we can see the circle closing with the completion of projects. The same structure can facilitate other countries as well.

Taking a good blueprint for investment strategy, I believe we can all look at Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s approach towards declaring their investment ministries as the most important.

I urge all our stakeholders, especially the decision-makers in the twin cities, to study and use this as the perfect model for Pakistan. This for me would be a dream come true.

I look forward to the SIFC becoming a division of the BOI to cover the KSA, the UAE, Qatar, China, and a host of other countries from where Pakistan can expedite investments for much-needed growth.

I would hope to see the SIFC becoming a catalyst for the privatization of loss-making Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) in order to boost the economy. Unfortunately, we are wasting over one trillion rupees annually on PSEs from the taxpayers’ money.

During my recent dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies Islamabad, I used a rather interesting analogy “Investors must be encouraged and facilitated, and investment must be grasped at the ‘right time.’ Investment is like water – it flows away if not productively engaged within the stipulated time.”

In the spirit of the statement above, the entire scheme of the SIFC is essential to optimize our interests in the ME’s rich offerings, but this needs to develop into a long-term, sustainable solution and not a short-term end.

(Concluded)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Muhammad Azfar Ahsan

The writer is a former Chairman Board of Investment. He can be reached at @MAzfarAhsan

Comments

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Tariq Qurashi Jul 12, 2023 03:04pm
A very pertinent and timely article with some very important insights. The reality for potential investors in Pakistan is that they have to contend with excessive red-tape and rent seeking while setting up and running their industries, as well as frequent changes in policy, the regulatory framework and taxation. The environment is far from investor friendly, and needs to be completely revamped, streamlined and reformed so that the creative energies of our entrepreneurs can be set free. All our FDI must have an export component so that foreign exchange can be brought in. India was in just as bad, or a worse, economic situation than we are in today in 1991. We need to study Manmohan Singh's reforms at that time. He did away with all the red tape and the "Licensing Raj with the stoke of a pen. India's economy then took off. We need to do the same.
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zaya zaya Jul 12, 2023 03:39pm
Like your wishful thinking and a note I don't think one can compare Pakistan with ME when you say "We have examples of the changed landscape of ME and need to follow in their footsteps." Pakistan does not have the same clout as the Arabs with billions in pocket. Until Pakistan has independent foreign policy free of loans it will remain a beggar for investment, as there is no stable Political Economy, hence, no FDI can be expected and you are just trying to smile even as BOI.
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KU Jul 13, 2023 02:58pm
A pertinent question in this all-merry scheme of things is, will common Pakistanis, or mere citizens, also benefit from Special Investment Facilitation Council and its rules? A simple option could have been, ‘’shutting down over a dozen public departments under half a dozen ministries’’, to make the cost of doing business easier for everyone and attract foreign investment. But since it’s hard to break from our well-entrenched management skills, and with eyes wide shut, it seems that the local entrepreneurs, industrialists, and farmers are the only losers in this scheme. Perhaps these losers have migrated from the ‘’Planet of the Apes’’.
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