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The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on Monday decided that Board of Investment (BOI) will reduce the timeframe for approval of SEZ applications from 90 days to 45 days. Additionally, the ECC meeting, presided over by Finance Minister Asad Umar also proposed certain changes in the SEZ Act to make it more investor friendly and decided that SEZs of Islamabad and Bostan will be included in the list of priority SEZs under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The ECC also asked Board of Investment (BoI) to revisit the requirements for setting up of tourism, IT and health related entities within SEZs. The chairman BoI gave a detailed presentation to the ECC on development of SEZs in the country and related issues.
The ECC directed Petroleum and Power Divisions to devise a roadmap within 30 days for provision of electricity/gas to all industrial estates. The ECC has approved Rs 833 million for Pakistan Machine Tool Factory (PMTF) for payment of employees' salaries and retirement benefits. Ministry of Industries and Production in the proposal of PMTF had requested for provision of Rs 833 million funds for payment of employees' salaries and retirement benefits. Sources said Ministry of Industries and Production in the proposal requested approval of Rs 737 million on account of the retirement benefits till December, 2018 as a grant and the remaining Rs 96 million for salaries as a loan.
The ministry stated that since 2007-08, PMTF has been accumulating losses mainly due to non-diversification of products and therefore has a narrow customer base. Additionally, the PMTF was also on privatisation list and the banks did not extend the credit limit and the supply chain was also affected. Resultantly, it failed to settle dues of retired employees.
The minister stated that there were 321 retired employees who remained unpaid due to insufficient release and some of them moved the court and the Sindh High Court on September 4, 2018 in its judgement on the matter deemed it "highly discriminatory" and ordered that the secretary should complete the exercise within 90 days.
The ECC was told that exigency to settle dues of 321 retirees, who remained unpaid whereas their colleagues of identical circumstances were paid, is imminent while another 94 retirees would be added to them by December 2018. In addition, PMTF, which is cash-strapped to the extent of inability to pay the salaries to its employees, currently requires an amount of Rs 833 million; (i) retirement benefits for left over employees retired between December 2008 and December 2017 - Rs 523 million; (ii) retirement benefits for employees retiring in year 2018 - Rs 214 million; (iii) and salaries for the months of September to November 2018 - Rs 96 million.
The PMTF reportedly has orders in hand and, given the above breather, it is likely to overcome its financial problems. The ministry, therefore, proposed that ECC may allow a grant of Rs 833 million for PMTF. The Finance Division was consulted and it has recommended provision of Rs 60 million only for clearing the dues of 34 former employees of PMTF. Prima facie, Finance Division has limited the grant to the extent of former employees who went to the court.
The ministry requested to the ECC that dues admissible should be settled irrespective of the fact whether or not the eligible claimants are litigants. Therefore, the amount of Rs 737 million on account of the retirement benefit till December 2018 may be allowed as a grant and the remaining Rs 96 million for salaries as a loan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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