They need firm guarantee for
protection of their investment from the government
From Shamim Ahmed
Aug 30 - Sep 05, 1999
Rich and affluent overseas Pakistanis, despite their bitterness on
government decision of freezing their foreign currency accounts last year, are still
willing to help their homeland by investing in various projects in Pakistan provided the
government offered firm guarantees for the protection of their accounts and investments.
Some of the vocal expatriates out of over 500 from all over the world who came to
Islamabad to attend the convention of overseas Pakistanis, gave vent to their anger over
last year's decision which, they said, had eroded their confidence. They said,
"Despite this bitter experience, out of sheer love and affection for the homeland,
some of us are ready to set up an airline and a bank of international standard besides
looking into other business opportunities."
The Prime Minister who inaugurated the 3-day convention was quick to
announce that overseas Pakistani can start a new airline and a private bank. If they like
they can participate in the privatization of UBL and Habib Bank which are to be
disinvested soon. "I would prefer if overseas Pakistanis buy both of them,"
Prime Minister added. Regretting the decision of freezing foreign currency accounts
"in a panic" last year, the Finance and Commerce Minister, Ishaq Dar assured the
participants of the convention, who had come from all over the world particularly from
North America, Europe and Middle East, that there would be no freeze on foreign accounts
in future. "I assure you that the government, under no circumstances, is going to
freeze foreign currency accounts in future. You can maintain your FCAs in Pakistan without
any fear," the minister said.
Dar called upon the participants to send their remittances through
normal banking channel. Pointing out that the gap between official and kerb exchange rate
of dollar is only 4 per cent and net difference is about 2.5 per cent excluding the
charges of hundi, Dar called upon overseas Pakistanis to sacrifice 2.5 per cent difference
in remittances for the sake of country's nuclear programme and development. He noted with
regret that during the last 14 months the remittances declined from $ 2.9 billion to a
billion dollars only. He also urged the expatriate Pakistanis to import the Pakistani
goods in their respective countries to give boost to the country's exports and to
strengthen the economy.
Touching upon the economic condition, Dar said that in the last two
years the government has managed to reduce budget deficit from Rs. 3.57 billion to Rs. 1.5
billion. "We strongly believe that foreign borrowing would only be stopped if we stop
getting foreign loans and it is only possible with a zero budget deficit". The
minister added that the government has a target of bringing the budget deficit to zero
during its tenure.
Over 500 Pakistanis, intellectuals, investors and foreign ambassadors,
from 40 countries are attending the convention. The theme of the convention is 'New role
of Overseas Pakistanis through OPF". The Prime Minister spoke about his vision of
Pakistan to be self-reliant in all walks of life including defence and he mentioned that
the country would be economically sound and strong. He also referred to various projects
like building of road networks, improvement of the Gwadar port, and many new projects. He
said the country, which was declared the second most corrupt in the world, has now come
out of crisis. He categorically stated that at the highest level, there was not an iota of
corruption. At the middle level, he did admit that matters were not so clean. He assured
the expatriates to weed out corruption at all levels.
The Prime Minister added that the Pakistani card has been finalised and
would be available soon. The expatriates would be allowed to vote in the assemblies and
hoped that 95 per cent would vote for him.
Introducing the purpose of the convention, Lahore Minister, Sh Rashid
Ahmed, said that three major demands of the expatriates was to allow them run a new
airlines, a bank to get rid of 'Hundi' besides representation in the elected bodies.
A Pakistani card for the expatriates, as demanded by them, has also
been Okayed. The card was shown to the Prime Minister. Sh. Rashid said that overseas
Pakistanis did not belong to any party but Pakistan.
He said that 80 per cent of the recommendations of the first overseas
Pakistanis convention have been implemented. The Foundation has been able to compensate
the Gulf War victims. The last installment of $ 250 million will be paid to the last batch
shortly. In all, there were 44,000 victims. According to the minister, the overseas
Pakistanis were eager to help Pakistan and would like the government to announce some
target-oriented tasks of national development.
The national press has always stood for affording due dignity to the
overseas Pakistanis, who are not only their country's ambassadors abroad, but, are also
contributing significantly to strengthen the national economy through their remittances.
The implementation of the last Convention's decisions, as stated by the Labour Minister,
is certainly welcome and it is hoped that the remaining decision will also be pushed
through expeditiously. It is, however, a matter of concern that there has not been any
major improvement in the procedural process of foreign remittances' encashment and
delivery, in accordance with the last convention's recommendations. The net result of the
banking authorities' lethargy and red tapism on this count is that the notorious
hundi' system is yielding flourishing business to the unscrupulous elements at the
national exchequer's cost. In this context, however, one welcomes the proposal for
establishment of the overseas Pakistanis bank, whose charter should be so framed as to
cater to the efficient and easy transfer of foreign remittances to the families of the
Pakistanis living abroad. The convention will also hold deliberations on the situation,
arising out of the gradual slump in the demand of Pakistani labour abroad, particularly in
the Middle East where development activities are getting closer to the saturation point
with every passing day. Pakistan will have to draw a comprehensive forward looking
strategy not only to look for other labour markets in the world, but also to develop
necessary infrastructure at home to absorb the skilled Pakistani labour shed from the