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Thursday May 30, 2024

Bureaucratic challenges

Prime Minister personally promises to ensure that our bureaucracy does not play tricks with them

By Mansoor Ahmad
April 20, 2024
The establishment division building can be seen in this picture. — Establishment division website/File
The establishment division building can be seen in this picture. — Establishment division website/File  

LAHORE: Most global leaders seek protection for overseas investors from host countries, while protection for foreign investors is accorded according to their own laws. In Pakistan, our Prime Minister personally promises to ensure that our bureaucracy does not play tricks with them.

This assurance, in itself, is an admission that foreign investors are not treated well by the bureaucracy in Pakistan. Although there are laws in Pakistan that promise power, gas, and water connections to industries within a specific time frame (ranging from a fortnight to a month), these essential facilities are often not provided without the help of top authorities or significant bribes—even after six months. Unfortunately, this standard procedure applies to both domestic and foreign investors.

The bureaucratic tricks are numerous. For instance, the government assures industries that there will be no unscheduled load shedding. Power distributors comply with this directive, which was issued because industries complained that abrupt power cuts damage a lot of their raw materials during ongoing processes. However, this weakness of industries has been exploited by the bureaucracy. When power goes off for even a few seconds (causing the same damage to raw materials), it is considered an outrage. Such outages are rare and beyond the control of power suppliers.

The trick employed by grid controllers is to switch off power to a specific industry briefly and then switch it back on after a minute or so. This practice can occur two to three times a day.Most industrialists have reluctantly accepted that if they want to eliminate such outrages, they must reach a settlement with their power supplier. Consequently, they now pay a fee for uninterrupted power supply to ensure continuous operations. However, how would the Prime Minister address bureaucracy in such cases?

Our rulers now recognize that the one-window operations or one-stop-shop concepts have failed to deliver, and investors continue to be exploited by bureaucrats. It is inconceivable that the Prime Minister, who has important state duties, would personally oversee the interests of Saudi investors. While perhaps feasible as a one-time effort, managing this throughout a lifetime of operations would be challenging. Therefore, the government must transition to rule-based governance and enforce strict accountability for even the slightest deviations from established rules.

Additionally, we are increasing the cost of our exports by insisting on physically examining garment consignments before shipment. Technology exists that can check these consignments from all angles, including detecting contraband items.

When garments undergo physical examination, they cannot be repacked as desired by the importer. Unfortunately, most of the time, expensive export garments remain with the examining officer, who may take a few more than authorized. As a result, if we analyze the export proceeds of each garment exporter, we would find that importers have fined exporters hefty amounts for missing garments. This loss affects our nation as well. To address this, garment containers leaving factories must be loaded intact onto ships after electronic examination by customs, similar to practices in other garment-exporting countries."