MOUS ABOUND, NO PROGRESS IN SIGHT

AMANULLAH BASHAR
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Dec 5 - 11, 20
11

The provinces in Pakistan have been authorized under the 18th amendment in the constitution of the country to directly attract foreign investments to capitalize on the available resources in their areas.

This amendment is certainly a great leap forward in the direction of power sharing or devolution yet the facility requires commitment, passion and the courage on the part of the implementers to put up with the given freedom for the good of the people and the provinces.

There is no doubt about the fact that successive governments in Punjab have delivered much to public as compared to the rest of the federating units. All have developed urban centers irrespective of their political affiliations.

Be it road transportation improvement, industrial development, or education sector reform, its achievement is quite appreciable. However, there is a lot of room for socioeconomic developments.

It is rightly said that the province of Punjab could have become the food basket for the country to meet not only food requirements of the nation but also the region, had available resources been developed judiciously without any involvement of political considerations or political hitches deliberately created by the opposite groups.

As far as the provincial autonomy under 18th amendment was concerned, either leadership in the province failed to take full advantage of the facility or the much talked about bureaucratic hurdles restricted implementation of the 18th amendment in letter and spirit.

The provinces have been empowered to offer investment opportunities to foreign partners, yet the federal government continues to have a supervisory role, which is basically the point where the notorious red tape poses a snag.

MOUs

It looks funny that the province succeeded to enter into a number of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with different countries, but none of them was materialized primarily due to lack of follow-ups as well as the usual hurdles generally created by the officials who are supposed to play the role of facilitators rather than problem creators.

The Punjab government so far has signed nearly 400 MoUs with the Chinese government over the last eight years. However, none of the MoUs could see the light of reality and were finally shelved in the secretariat's records or in the junkyard without making any progress.

The Punjab chief minister on his visit to China last year signed 37 MoUs regarding various projects. These MoUs included a 250 mega watts (MW) power project in south Punjab. The Chinese government was irked when the Punjab government would not respond to a reminder it had sent regarding the power project after it had not heard from the government for six months sine the signing, it is learnt.

Generally speaking, there is a craze for joyriding at the expense of public money in our society. The political leaders, ministers, and high government officials love to make international travelling under the cover of some sort of study tours, seminars, conferences or to seek financial or technical support for some projects usually on the papers. During these official's visits, MOUs are frequently signed to justify the visits, but all such memoranda slip out of memories of the concerned authorities when they return home.

It is learnt that when the Chief Minister of Punjab had expressed his desire to visit China this year, he was politely told to come prepared for talks on the projects. Now, the Chinese government had insisted on signing agreements rather than MoUs.

ENERGY CRISIS

Although the acute currency shortfall has stalled economic activity besides hitting the commercial and social growth all over the country, the Punjab is the worst hit province thanks to its huge population and higher energy requirements.

The province has to experience CNG stations' shutdown for 3-4 days a week, 10 to 12 hour load shedding, and drastic cut in gas supplies to fertilizer, cement, and textile units.

Under the given circumstances, there is a dire need of foreign investments in the areas where development is needed on war footings. One of the potential areas is the hydropower generation that is capital intensive and thus direly needs foreign investments.

Failure of MoUs cannot be attributed to the ineptness of the provincial government alone. In fact, onus also lies on the federal authorities.

It is interesting to note that Karachi and the province of Punjab have common problems of resource management.

Karachi is one of the largest mega cities in the world which is bigger than 67 countries of the world in terms of population. Such a huge city cannot be managed by a single utility like KESC. Consequently, the its 18 million population has to suffer a number of problems from load shedding, overflowing gutters and rising street crimes to rampant corruption in the police and other government departments.

Almost same situation prevails in Punjab where burgeoning population has outstripped the economic resources. The socioeconomic problems in the province are so huge that they go beyond the control of the provincial government. It seems quite a valid point that creation of another province in the south of Punjab could help make things manageable at least administratively.