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The position of the Chairman BoI, which fell vacant after the departure of Haroon as Chairman BoI who served the organisation for eight months, is lying vacant since last month. There are conflicting reports about his resignation. It is said that he could not come up to government expectations. It is also said that he could not perform as he wanted to on account of unsurmountable obstacles he had to internally deal with.
It is also a fact that in the current fiscal year, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has hit rock bottom and BoI could not roll out any viable strategy to move the country out of this bottomless pit. What it has done so far is unsubstantiated announcements of mega investment MoUs whose outcome is little known.
Important is to identify who is responsible for this frustrating situation - the Chairman or the entity he was entrusted to lead? In this writer's view, both are responsible for country's investment woes. BoI, with 10 years of neglect and pathetic leaderships, has turned into a lethargic, de-motivated and extremely bureaucratic enterprise which is more of an investment repellent than an investment facilitator. The Chairman BoI has to first lock his horns with his organisation to set it right and then embark on his real task of mobilising investment. The ex-Chairman appears to have been unable to lock horns and align his organisation to support him to meet the humongous task of bringing back investment into the country.
The issue is that the temptation for the Chairmen to straightaway showcase performance overrides more important considerations and this is the weak point which ultimately leads to failure.
This also holds true for other government enterprises such as FBR, SECP, EPZA, Ogra and Nepra. Apart from being regulators, these entities are meant to be business facilitators as it's all about 'business first'.
But here again, all the said entities are riddled with lethargy, de-motivation and red tape or excessive regulations or rigid conformity to formal rules with little or no obligation to be business facilitators. The relationship between the regulators and entrepreneurs is characterised by fear and distrust.
Today, the major cause of worry for PTI leadership is that its public-friendly policies are being frustrated at implementation stage very much by these and many similar entities.
Prime Minister Imran Khan at one stage is reported to have described the government machinery as laid-back, lethargic with a mindset to sit back or push the buck. He even talked about wrapping up the current FBR and creating another FBR. His views were spot on. It would be better in long-term national interest to wrap up some of these white elephants and/or go for massive restructuring of these entities.
The Chairmen supported by boards and frontline leaderships of these enterprises, have to deal with organisational challenges courageously and skillfully in order to deliver. Presently, this is not happening much. Taking the path of least resistance is the preferable option which is visible with their deliverables on ground.
Many of the public sector enterprises (PSEs) are without permanent Chairmen/CEOs for years. Export Processing Zone Authority Karachi (EPZA), for example, is without a chairman for years, which has resulted in the ruination of this prime investment institution. There are many similar examples of profound neglect.
A few months back, the incumbent government published a comprehensive plan to hire the heads of PSEs through a public advertising process. One has since then not heard about its outcome.
For the fiscal year 2019-20, the FBR has set a revenue collection target of Rs 5.5 trillion. All responsible citizens should support it as no nation can build up a truly viable and sustainable socio-economic regime unless the earners duly pay their share of taxes.
FBR at best is responsible to collect taxes but it is not responsible to generate taxes. And unless revenue is generated taxes cannot be collected and accordingly the target of FBR cannot be achieved.
The prime revenue generation source is our industry, investments, exports and commercial activities. At present, all are stressed and there is little chance to extract more taxes out of them either voluntarily or through fear of accountability. The problem boils down to one thing - lack of implementation on ground, which remains the weakest link of the incumbent government.
The implementors are the crumbling government institutions and enterprises which can do little in their present state to shape up and implement government policies. The political leadership is much too late on this aspect and must now on top priority restore its machinery to a fair level of competence at least.
The crumbling and rudderless public enterprises are one of the key factors behind economic slowdown and lack of implementation of government policies. We need many captains of steel to head these entities. The irony is that we have none and the incumbent government is not doing enough to identify and hire the right persons without any further loss of time.
(The writer is the former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019