By Muhammad Luqman
In a bid to improve the ease of doing business, the government of central Pakistan province of Punjab has launched the reform plan to facilitate businesses and start-ups to improve the investment environment in the province.
“The 100 Days to Business Reform Plan has been launched under Punjab Growth Strategy 2018 which sets the target of achieving 8 percent economic growth,” says Punjab Secretary for Planning and Development , Iftikhar Ali Sahoo.
According to Census 2017, Punjab is home to approximately 53 percent of Pakistan’s total population. It is the second largest province with a population as high as 110 million. The rapidly growing population necessitates creation of approximately 1 million quality jobs, according to the Punjab Growth Strategy 2018.
“For the economy to grow and flourish, improving the business environment is indispensable,” says Iftikhar Ali Sahoo.
The Doing Business reform agenda also seeks to improve Pakistan’s ranking on the Doing Business Index. According to the recently published World Bank’s flagship Doing Business Report 2018, Pakistan slipped by three points and now ranks at 147 out of 190 economies. However, it registered progress on the Distance to Frontier (DTF) by 51.65. DTF shows the distance of each economy to the “frontier,” which represents the best performance observed on each of the indicators across all economies in the Doing Business indicators.
“Ease of doing business involves introducing major reforms across departments like the SECP, State Bank and other national institutions which cannot be done without personal interest from the top leadership,” said Secretary Sahoo.
“That’s is why the Prime Minister has set up a steering committee under his chairmanship with top officials from these departments tasked to follow up on the reform and implementation process.” World over, economies where small and medium size enterprises find the investment environment conducive through facilitation are the most vibrant. The WB Doing Business Reform ranking is based on a survey launched in February every year, with “contributors” from the private sector participating actively in the evaluation survey. The report measures 11 indicators – from laws, frameworks and procedures facilitating or hampering starting of an enterprise to others across the life cycle of a business. “It is like a race for countries who want to be at the top [in terms of appeal to investors],” said senior World Bank representative. “It is important that when reform happens, businesses should feel the impact and contributors should see implementation [to respond favourably to the survey]. In Pakistan, there has been recognized progress around four reforms in Doing Business Report 2018– from ease of starting a business to property registration, protecting minority and facilitating cross border trade. Reforms across these have contributed to improving Pakistan’s image.” The report usually surveys the investment situation in leading commercial cities with a population over a million. Karachi’s contribution to Pakistan’s ranking is 65 percent; Lahore’s is 35 percent. Pakistan is currently pursuing 44 reforms across a range of indicators with Punjab initiating reforms aimed at registering property, enforcing contracts, dealing with construction permits and starting a business. “The Hundred Days Plan is aimed at low hanging fruit that can generate the greatest impact in terms of improving Pakistan’s rating and Punjab’s relate to these four indicators,” said Ali Jalal, Programme Director, Programme Implementation Unit, P&D, Punjab. “But other than the ranking, for us in the government the incentive is to really improve the business and investment environment.” Journalists at the briefing wanted to know why only Lahore and Karachi have been selected for the survey and not other cities. Secretary Sahoo said that reforms are piloted for implementation in the main commercial cities for their efficacy and then extended to other cities at a later stage. “Earlier it was about nationalization and business control, now it is about opening up. But our structures are still outmoded and obsolete. Reforms are meant to change that.”