ISLAMABAD: Dissatisfied with foreign investment outcomes, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed massive restructuring of the Board of Investment (BoI) including winding up of its regional offices.
“The BoI was originally created to provide for one-window operations to facilitate international investment. It has failed to deliver on that objective with some isolated exceptions in the last more than two decades of its existence,” the prime minister secretariat is reported to have conveyed to the BoI management.
BoI Chairman Miftah Ismail, however, seemed unimpressed with the Prime Minister Office’s (PMO) move.
Official communication seen by Dawn suggest that the prime minister, who is also minister in-charge of the BoI, was unhappy with the continuation of its provincial offices when all the provincial governments had also set up similar organisations.
“It is, therefore, not wise to continue to run parallel organisations in the provincial headquarters with no mandate or authority to facilitate at the provincial government level,” the PMO quoted Mr Sharif as saying.
He is reported to have expressed displeasure over non-implementation of his earlier directives to the BoI to justify its existence and its staff strength to the Cabinet Committee on Restructuring (CCoR) led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The sources said the BoI top brass kept on sleeping over the prime minister’s directives issued about three years ago.
“It appears that BoI has failed to brief the CCoR properly about its reduced role in view of developments since establishment of the organisation, as there appears to be little justification for retention of its provincial arms at this stage,” an official quoted the prime minister.
He ordered the BoI management to “re-examine the utility of its regional offices afresh and resubmit a case” before Aug 23. He desired that the BoI management should explain a reform solution to make its existence at the federal level fully functional and vibrant.
Informed sources said the CCoR, on the directive of the prime minister, had asked in December 2013 all the federal ministries and divisions to carry out detailed review of all public sector enterprises, departments and bodies to identify overlapping functions, over-employment and redundancies and propose right-sizing.
The BoI, however, responded that the directive did not apply to it because “there is no autonomous body or public sector enterprise working under the administrative control of the BoI”. It also reported that “prime minister being the minister in-charge of the board had seen and authorised submission of this summary”.
An official said the regional offices were currently consuming about Rs80-100 million per year but their output was almost non-existent. He said the senior management had kept those set ups for their own facilitation to generate trips to various cities even though provincial chief ministers seldom spare time for investors’ visits arranged by the BoI and mostly engage with investors through their own boards to promote special economic zones.
The official explained that BoI offices in Quetta and Peshawar were very small involving 5-6 persons but Lahore and Karachi had staff strength of about 50 each and consumed major part of the budget.
Mr Ismail told Dawn that he was not aware of any communication from the PMO showing dissatisfaction over BoI’s performance or winding up of regional office. He said the performance of regional offices could be debated upon and agreed that some duplication had emerged after four provinces set up their BoIs.
However, he defended the utility of regional offices in Lahore and Karachi. In particular, he said the Karachi office was facilitating a number of international investors and expatriates in handling their work visa issues. On the contrary, he said the BoI was considering creating a new desk at Gwadar to facilitate Chinese investors. He said the regional offices were making insignificant expenditure.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2016