Prime Minister Imran Khan has been visiting various countries in quest for money and investment. But these kinds of missions launched by his predecessors in the past either brought a temporary relief to the ailing economy or ended in a fiasco. The much trumpeted 100 days of the government have also ended without bringing any positive change in the people’s lives or setting the economy on the right direction. So far, the government ministers and the prime minister himself, with all sincerity, are beating about the bush without focusing on the core issues confronting the national economy.
It is true that the government is still trying to clean up the mess it has inherited from the previous government, but Khan and his team should have to work and overwork on multi-pronged strategies. Unfortunately, the government could not set its priorities and direction so far. In view of some experts, the prime minister needs more work to do at home than abroad in line with his vision of a prosperous Pakistan. And there are no two opinions that the prime minister is doing his work sincerely as advised by the people around him. But the first step to start with is to set priorities with a clear understanding of the issues.
No doubt corruption is rampant in every government institution and white collar crime, including money-laundering, has acquired now dimensions in the recent years. However, the first priority of the government still has to be the economy as prosperity is the key to cut down the rate of corruption in society. When there is liquidity crunch, the business community is in trouble and it will use every mean to overcome its financial losses. Therefore, without trying to control the business community by withdrawing rebates and concessions, as well as disturbing the official machinery in any way, there is a need to create conducive environment for the growth of business and investment opportunities.
Pakistan has various areas of investment which are so far unexplored and have the potential not only to create jobs, but earn foreign exchange. Relying on cotton, rice and other agricultural products is beneficial to some extent, but you have to wait for six month to reap the yields.
Industry, especially cottage industry, is the backbone of economy, but most of it is self-grown without any government assistance. Rather, various government agencies chase small entrepreneurs to get their share of benefits form them and many of the industries are still able to survive in the hostile environment. When the local investors are discouraged to set up businesses and industries, how the foreign entrepreneurs will be able to come to put their money at stake. It is, therefore, necessary that laws should be enacted to attract local and foreign investment in designated areas and clip the powers of the government officials.
The government will have to win the confidence of the opposition parties for the passage of necessary laws for the protection of life and property of foreign investors. The prime minister has already advised the officials concerned to improve Pakistan’s position on ease of doing business index. However, involvement of local investors in the investment process is also mandatory. It will be better if the government only works as a facilitator, rather than working as a partner in the investment sector.
The country is already facing heavy losses in Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan International Airlines and dozens of other public sector organisations. Instead of becoming an investment partner, the government should improve governance to provide maximum facilities to the local and foreign investors. The biggest hurdle in the way of investment is not mismanagement, but the bureaucracy which is in the habit of maintaining status quo. The officials should be made to go through a fresh capacity-building programme.
The most unexplored investment areas include setting up of assembling and production units of smart phones, LCDs and software applications which are trillions of dollar market in the world. Unfortunately, the successive governments failed to loop Pakistan with mega IT organisations of the world. Saudi Arabian investment in Silicon Valley is over $6 billion and Saudi investors have shares in many US and European companies. US and European industrialists have invested heavily in China as benefit is the only currency which can be sold in any part of the world. The Pakistani software engineers, many of whom are freelancers, face difficulties in receiving their hard earned money from abroad as online money transfer channels such as PayPal are not allowed to operate in Pakistan.
Pakistan can extend better offers to foreign companies as Bangladesh has done to woo giant organisations dealing in banded clothes. Concentrating only on stitching, Bangladesh is the second largest producer of banded clothes in the world after China and Vietnam is the second largest exporter of mobile phones after China. Instead, a proposed Textile City project in Karachi, which could have worked as engine of growth for the national economy, has been shelved. The textile city could have the potential to attract world brands and could become volume leader of Pakistan’s exports.
Pakistan, with lowest literacy rate in the world, can establish educational cities across the country with campuses of renowned foreign universities. Highly qualified teachers should be hired on handsome salaries and perks to increase educational tourism in the country. The local students would also benefit from foreign educational institutions which would charge heavy fee from foreign students, but the fee would still be less than that they would have to pay in their home countries. Another suggestion is the establishment of health cities with state of the art teaching hospitals to not only increase health tourism, but provide modern health facilities to Pakistani nationals.
Pakistan can be one of the best destinations for investors who take interest in sports products. The sports city projects would cater to the needs of the sports goods in all over the world. It is also a trillion-of-dollars market.
The world right now is shifting from hydropower to renewable energy. Unfortunately, the government has banned the manufacturing of voltaic cell which converts heat into electricity. Those who are behind this ban must be identified and put in the dock. Renewable energy, including solar energy, is the most popular area of investment and Pakistan has the potential to grab European and African markets. With production of voltaic cell, solar panels will become domestic industry in Pakistan and can cater to the needs of the world.