WASHINGTON: Pakistan has an attractive geographical location and offers excellent investment opportunities, said the country’s ambassador to US while urging Pakistani Americans to respond positively to various schemes for attracting investment.

A Pakistani American, Faiz Rehman, who owns a gas station in Los Angeles and properties in Virginia, agreed, but said that “the community does not have enough information about these schemes and they also need reassurance that it will be a safe investment”.

The schemes to attract overseas Pakistanis and meant to contribute to the national economy includes the Roshan Digital Account (RDA), which offers higher interest rates to account holders than offered in their host countries.

An RDA account holder can earn up to 6 per cent interest on a fixed account, much higher than the 0.6pc offered by American banks.

Most Pakistani Americans interviewed by Dawn seemed interested in the scheme but only a few had actually opened an account. Most are still undecided.

The State Bank of Pakistan reported this week that since September 2020, when the scheme was launched, overseas Pakistanis have opened more than 100,000 accounts, bringing about $671 million. The scheme has attracted people from more than 100 countries.

The government is trying to popularise the scheme in the United States as well, which has more than a million Pakistani immigrants. Some of them are well-placed and most can benefit from the scheme because of its high rate of interest.

“Pakistan’s liberal investment regime and familiar legal framework should encourage people to benefit from these schemes,” Amba­ssador Asad Majeed Khan said.

“The country has a 220-million consumer market, a growing middle class and a young and vibrant population,” said the Pakistani envoy while explaining why investors, particularly Pakistani Americans, should trust the government’s investment schemes, including the RDA.

“There are immense opportunities in information technology, agriculture and tourism,” he added. “And the money coming through these schemes will be used to expand investment in these sectors.”

The United States is also a major source of remittances for Pakistan — fourth on the list. In February this year, overseas Pakistanis sent $2.266 billion to the country, showing a year-on-year growth of 24.2pc. Last year, Pakistani Americans sent $1.6bn to the country, after Saudi Arabia, $5bn; UAE, $3.9bn; and Britain, $2.5bn.

Pakistani officials hope the country would receive up to $1bn through the RDA scheme by the end of the current fiscal year if the inflow continues at the current pace.

“We too see this as a positive scheme,” said Goher Khan, a real estate agent in the greater Washington area who has already approached a Pakistani bank to open an account.

“The interest rate is very high. We cannot think of 6pc return here in the US,” he said. But like Faiz Rehman, he too underlined the need to “rebuild the community’s trust”.

Others recalled that in the 1990s, the-then government had floated a similar scheme with offers for high interest rates, but account holders were later told that they could only withdraw their money in rupees, not dollars.

“But those were peculiar circumstances. The international reaction to the nuclear tests had forced the government to do so. Now the situation is different,” Mr Rehman said.

Imran Shahid, who owns a cellphone shop in the greater Washington area, urged the government to focus on those who had immediate family members in Pakistan.

“They are the ones who send money regularly. They are often seen looking for options in emergencies. Having an account in a Pakistani bank would be reassuring for them.”

Although these are fixed accounts, Mr Shahid said the government should make some arrangement for people to withdraw money from their accounts without impacting on the interest rate.

Sajjad Baloch, a community activist, said “information is the key”, adding that the people he spoke to did not know enough about these schemes to respond. “And I meet dozens of people, almost daily. So, the need is to popularise the scheme if the government wants positive results,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2021

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