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Prime Minister Imran Khan has said Pakistan is sitting on hundreds of billions of rupees in "dead capital" in the form of state land, rest houses and official residences built on that land.
The figures cited by the premier includes 34,459 kanals of state-owned land located in rural areas while 17,035 kanals in urban areas.
"Just the urban land with buildings is worth over Rs 300 billion! A country that has to borrow money to pay interest on its loans is sitting on a huge amounts of dead capital in the form of this government-owned land with buildings," twitted the Premier, suggesting that this money could be used for other purposes of public interest.
It's heartening to note that state leadership has finally taken note of this waste. The PTI government is in desperate need of capital to sustain state economy having fallen dramatically short on revenue generation.
Equally important is to focus on the waste of public money to sustain an humongous government machinery and the dire need to rationalise it. A closer scrutiny will reveal that much of it is now redundant.
Pakistan has around 34 federal ministries governed by 35 federal ministers supported by minister of state, federal secretary, multiple additional - joint & deputy secretaries, multiple section officers, personnel secretaries & protocol officers. In addition to these, are special assistants and advisers with the ranks and privileges of the federal or state minister.
Under the domain of federal ministries operate over 400 autonomous bodies and corporations inclusive of business enterprises in the public sector, utility companies, education institutions, hospitals, regulators, research and development centers in the fields of agriculture, industry, health sciences and information technology
The functions of a number of ministries are overlapping, superfluous and in conflict hence counterproductive. The deliverables of some ministries are negligible.
After the 18th Amendment, a good number of functions under the federal government are superfluous and redundant having been transferred to the provinces. The same is not correspondingly reflected in the rationalisation of human and material resources at the federal ministries and the departments operative under the federal government.
There are around 18 prime regulatory bodies in Pakistan enjoying the constitutional role to regulate and make transparent the conduct of government functionaries, public and private sector while balancing the interests of the government and the public. But their role has invariably been diluted by the more powerful ministries and state functionaries.
The other area where the government can save public money and earn good money can be discovered by disposing of loss-making enterprises in the public sector whose losses since decades are bleeding the state economy. The government's plan to lump them under a newly founded 'Surmaya Company' in a bid to restructure them with the option to retain or spin them off may not yield the expected results. Countless efforts have been made to do so for over three decades through placements of professionals, subsidies and reorganisation but to no avail except a few feebl sparks of some improvement. The main flaw is that these enterprises are driven by vested interests and vote politics of political leaderships. There is no way that entities such as PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills can be made viable in a market driven by good value for money and service. One may witness some better optics but no change can be expected in the inherently flawed public sector entities.
PM Imran Khan's initiatives to take stock of the idle public real estate is a right step but much more can be added to it in the best public interest.
(The writer is the former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019