Wednesday June 07, 2023

Strategic reforms

By Editorial Board
July 02, 2022

There can hardly be two opinions about the fact that Pakistan’s public sector has been in need of reforms for long. Successive governments formed committees to recommend changes, but there has not been much improvement. Now the head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms initiative, Salman Sufi, has kindled new hope by announcing a set of reforms in various sectors including banking, customs, health, information technology, overseas Pakistanis, and social welfare. The proposed changes are aimed at delivering smooth services by facilitating the citizens of Pakistan. Take, for instance, the FBR’s notification of new rules to settle the personal baggage limit of international travelers arriving in Pakistan who will now enjoy a duty-free treatment of their personal belongings. Pakistanis returning home within 30 or 60 days could carry duty-free baggage worth up to $400 and $800 respectively. Beyond this period, the allowance would be $1200. Under these reforms, the government has also increased the limit of duty-free purchases from $500 to$1,000.

Much more impressive is the new national initiative to impart first-aid training to citizens in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), enabling them to save lives in an emergency. The process to register for this training is also simple and people-friendly. This is a commendable initiative to equip people with basic lifesaving skills at the public-sector health facilities, or at Rescue 1122 centres. Though the prime minister will make a formal announcement of this initiative in a couple of weeks, the initial information is encouraging. Moving to banking-sector reforms, the government is planning to launch a portal by the SECP to facilitate banks for online opening of fast-track accounts of small and medium enterprises. At the moment, a lot of documents change hands before an enterprise can open a simple account. Now most documents will move online at the portal without any physical movement at bank branches. The business community will benefit from this initiative. This will particularly benefit digital freelancers engaged in software exports. They can now just use their CNICs to open an account. This will facilitate transactions through a proper banking system rather than using informal channels.

There are other reforms too, but perhaps the most revolutionary is the measure to enable account-holders in one bank to open more accounts in other banks without going through the rigmarole they experienced while opening the first account. This will curtail the length of the process involved just by using a central database accessible to all banks. The introduction of an online Directorate of Protectorate is also a good step to facilitate emigrants who will now have no need to visit physically as the new directorate will process all documents online and verified by the immigration staff of the FIA at airports. The reforms are wide and cover many areas – from animal welfare to data privacy. We can ask questions about whether these reforms will work and whether they will be fully implemented. The cooperation of many departments is needed to manage this. But the idea and the manner in which the process has been set in place is a good one and one hopes this list of initiatives can go some way in helping people navigate their daily lives in a far easier way.