ISLAMABAD: In a landmark ruling, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has directed the federal government to enforce the Trade Organisations (Amendment) Act, 2022, which aims to overhaul the election process in chambers of commerce and industry across Pakistan.
The decision has created a stir within various chambers, leading to ongoing confusion over the implications of the new law. The IHC’s ruling, issued in response to a case concerning the Trade Organisations (Amendment) Act, 2022, stipulates that there will be no elections for chambers in 2023.
Instead, office bearers who have completed their two-year terms will be granted an additional third year, while those in their first year will finish their second by the end of 2024. Following this, complete chamber bodies will participate in elections every two years, aligning with the new legislation.
This development marks a significant departure from the previous Trade Organisations Act (TOA) 2013, under which half of the office bearers were elected each year for two-year terms, leading to a continuous cycle of elections.
Surprisingly, officials at the Director General Trade Organization (DGTO) appear unaware of the court’s decision, shedding light on the DGTO’s failure to oversee chamber and trade body affairs, which has resulted in legal disputes and prolonged election delays.
Ahsan Zafar Bakhtawari, President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), expressed support for the new two-year term for office bearers, arguing that a one-year term was too short for effective performance and delivering for the business community. He believes the extended term will allow them to work more effectively for the betterment of the business community and contribute to the country’s economic growth.
However, confusion persists among several chambers regarding the executive body structure. Some senior members of the ICCI believe that another vice president (VP) will be added for a one-year term, while Chaudhary Zafar Mahmood, Senior Vice President of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), countered this interpretation, attributing the confusion to the DGTO’s issuance of election notifications under the previous TOA 2013.
Mahmood also criticized the Commerce Minister for focusing on politics and his own vision during chamber visits, rather than addressing the concerns of the business community.
The IHC’s decision is not expected to affect the upcoming elections of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), as they are scheduled for December this year, coinciding with the completion of the existing body’s two-year term.
Haji Qurban, a former Chairman of FPCCI’s Islamabad office, lauded the court’s decision, anticipating that it would resolve election-related issues for chambers and trade associations across the country.
Taufique Ahmed Khan, former Vice President of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), also welcomed the decision, highlighting that the two-year term would empower elected bodies to make a more significant impact, given the limitations of the previous one-year term.
However, there are reports that some trade bodies, especially in Karachi, have proceeded with or completed their election processes despite the court’s order, adding a layer of complexity to the situation.