OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS WILLING TO INVEST IN PAKISTAN
They need firm guarantee for protection of their investment from the government
From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
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 other countries.