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LAHORE: Punjab Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht said on Thursday the PTI government, right from the prime minister, was committed to making it easy to establish business in Pakistan, enabling the private sector to increase its contribution to the national economy and expand the job market.

“Facilitating business would actually enable the private sector to add to its contributions to the national economy and enable the government to provide jobs,” he said at the ‘Ease of Doing Business Reforms’ function held by the Planning and Development Board at a local hotel.

The event was organised by the Programme Implementation Unit, Planning and Development Board in collaboration with the World Bank and the Department for International Development.

The minister said the Punjab government intended to expand the scope of the reforms implemented under the Doing Business Reforms Agenda with even more commitment, building on last year’s success of Pakistan’s ranking on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index which saw an improvement from 147 to 136.

He said the province had made significant achievements with regard to a number of indicators that are taken into consideration for ranking a country on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. To facilitate starting a business, a Business Registration Portal had been developed and launched for registration of businesses with the Labour and Human Resource Department, the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution and the Registrar of firms through httpss://register.business.punjab.gov.pk/.

The portal had been integrated with the Virtual One Stop Shop (VOSS) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). A dedicated helpline had been established to facilitate queries regarding business registration on 042-111-425-725. This had reduced the cost of registering businesses substantially, he said.

The minister later inaugurated three online platforms aimed at easing business in the province. Through an online platform, the Punjab Land Records Authority (PLRA) has made it possible for land owners to get free of cost online NOCs for property tax, while the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) has provided for submission of social security contributions through an online platform. In addition to this, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) has launched a portal to receive applications for building permits online.

World Bank’s Deputy Country Director Melinda Good appreciated Pakistan for improving its ranking on World Bank’s Ease of Doing Index by 11 points this year due to four major reforms, standing at 136 out of 190 economies. She said Pakistan must sustain the momentum and improve its ranking to double digits. Attain the 50 mark by 2023, she said.

She asked the government to validate the reform before April this year, make further adjustments to it, really go digital as it increases efficiency and cuts costs, and communicate the reform to the world. The 136 mark was based on the performance of Lahore and Karachi and there was a need to implement the reform all over the country before “you celebrate 100th year of your independence,” she said, adding “our effort will be to bring Pakistan to the 100 number in one year.”

DFID’s Jindal Shah said Pakistan had made impressive economic achievements. However, Pakistan needed a recipe for 7 per cent annual GDP growth and it must stay there for the next 25 years to join the rank of nations that have made impressive economic achievements in the last century. For this, Pakistan needed strong business environment and investments.

Federal Board of Investment Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera said investment to the GDP ratio was 25 per cent in the region, and only 15 per cent in Pakistan. He said three million people enter the job market every year. Only industry could provide jobs to such a large labour force. The government could provide social services and jobs to people only when business flourishes and taxes are paid.

He said the prime minister was giving ownership to this reform agenda. There was a need to implement the reform agenda and to also keep it updated to meet challenges from other countries which were also attracting business. All must work together to achieve this goal. Pakistan was now entering the industrial cooperation framework of the CPEC, hoping investment from China in the special economic zones. “But we need to make business here more attractive than in any other country.”

LCCI President Almas Haidar said the role of the government was crucial in facilitating the private sector. “You have no land left for any industry in Lahore,” he said while pointing out shortcomings in the system.

Chief Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar said a strong sense of ownership by the government, stakeholder consultation, effective monitoring and evaluation and feedback mechanism were a must for achieving investment targets.

P&D Chairman Habibur Rehman Gilani and Secretary Iftikhar Sahu also spoke.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019