Getting down to brass tacks

SIFC starts the inevitable sorting process

It could be said that the Special Investment Facilitation Council should have done much earlier what it did in its meeting on Saturday, and differentiate between areas from which investment is to be attracted. There may even be some objection to the form given to the new measure, which is the setting up of three separate desks for investors, but it must be acknowledged that if the SIFC was at all serious about carrying out its task, it had to acknowledge that different investors had different requirements, and it was up to the central and provincial governments to fulfil those requirements. The initial seven desks include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Far East, China, the USA and the European Union. Though this list is very comprehensive, it leaves room for expansion, by the setting up of a new desk. However, it accepts a basic commercial principle, most commonly expressed in the phrase, ‘the customer is always right.’ It acknowledges that investors from different countries might have different concerns, even different goals, even if they are interested in the same area. One investor may prefer growing market share, one may prefer instant profits; neither might have any interest in promoting Pakistan’s international or regional political goals. Even if they came from the same country, they might demand different treatment by different departments, even different governments, and they would have to be satisfied.

The SIFC is approaching Pakistan’s problems from the point of view of solving Pakistan’s economic problem, which is one of foreign exchange. Pakistan has piled up a large mountain of foreign debt, and to service it, Pakistan must be able to export. The SIFC will not sell or export any goods, but the investment it beings will not only ease the country’s foreign exchange problems, but will bring about both employment and hopefully exportable production.

That requires the civil service to overcome its resistance to doing anything, and creating an atmosphere suitable for investment. It should be assessed what are the barriers to investment. The includes law and order, dispute resolution mechanisms, and the existence of a healthy and trained workforce. These are all provincial subjects, and involve long term commitments. Without them, it is not possible to deliver. It is encouraging that minor protocol issues between the PML(N) central government and the KP PTI government were overcome, because it should be remembered that the provinces play a key role in the SIFC experiment.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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