• Says embassies cannot be run under colonial-like system
• Calls overseas Pakistanis an asset, strength
• Vows to evaluate performance of missions
• Says Rs48bn released for tribal districts this fiscal

ISLAMABAD: Reacting strongly to the ‘indifferent’ attitude of the country’s envoys towards expatriates, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday rebuked diplomats for their failure to serve the Pakistani diaspora, warning that missions could not be run in this manner.

“I am shocked to receive complaints from overseas Pakistanis that our embassies are doing nothing to resolve their problems. Therefore this time I want to monitor and evaluate the performance of our embassies abroad,” the prime minister said while addressing ambassadors and high commissioners via video link.

He said the PM Citizen’s Portal had been receiving frequent complaints from overseas Pakistanis about the unnecessary delays in services, indifferent attitude of the embassies’ staff, lack of top-level supervision and passion to solve problems and no formal communicating channel to get information about visiting hours and fees.

He said Indian diplomats were quite proactive compared to their Pakistani counterparts in attracting foreign investment for their country.

“Overseas Pakistanis are our assets and strength. Pakistan is running on their remittances; if they would not have been remitting, the country would have gone bankrupt,” he said, adding that the time when embassies were being run under a colonial-like system was over.

“In new Pakistan, we have to make our embassies service-oriented and foreign investment attracting forums,” he said.

Referring to his 20 years experience of living in England, Mr Khan regretted that the country’s embassies “by and large” treated educated, well-to-do expatriates with respect but were indifferent towards the labour class.

He said Pakistani ambassadors, during the 1970s, 80s and 90, behaved like masters from the colonial days.

“I remember some ambassadors used to have a really bad attitude towards the labour community,” he added.

While talking about the issues that had come to light in the Pakistani missions in Riyadh and Jeddah, the prime minister acknowledged that he had not paid the matter as much attention as he would have liked because he was occupied with “domestic issues”.

However, after the government received complaints from Pakistani labourers in Saudi Arabia and following “one or two incidents”, he sought feedback about the embassy from some expatriates he knew.

“The feedback was shocking ... there was callousness and nobody worried about them,” he said, adding that the reports matched the complaints received on the Citizen’s Portal.

“We cannot continue like this. The way our embassies are running, this could work in an old colonial system but not in today’s Pakistan. Embassies’ foremost work is to serve the diaspora and then they should work to bring investment into the country that is going through a very bad financial condition right now,” he stressed.

Recognising that the highest remittances were received from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the prime minister said it was understandable that these two embassies would face the greatest pressure due to the high number of workers, but they could inform Islamabad if they needed extra help or support. “But indifferent attitude is just unforgivable, unacceptable,” he added.

“Complaint resolution approach of the embassies is mostly firefighting and lacks passion to solve these issues; no policy-level decisions or permanent resolution approach is adopted to the issues frequently highlighted; no formal communication channels are kept at hand to keep the Pakistani diaspora updated about the embassies’ working hours [and] services,” the prime minister said.

He read out complaints lodged by expatriates in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the response given to them by the embassies, which he termed unsatisfactory and “bureaucratic”. One case concerned an overseas Pakistani who complained that they were given polio drops every time they landed in Saudi Arabia despite showing the attested vaccination certificate issued by the kingdom. However, this person was told by the embassy that it could not interfere in the matter as Saudi Arabia was a sovereign country, the prime minister said.

In order to reverse course, Prime Minister Khan said he desired ‘clear’ monitoring of issues overseen by the ambassadors themselves. A special officer should be appointed to look into the feedback and the complaints received on the PM Citizen’s Portal, he added.

Development of tribal districts

Prime Minister Imran Khan said a record Rs48 billion development funds were given to tribal districts in the current fiscal year despite difficult economic conditions. He was presiding over a meeting on merged tribal areas (erstwhile Fata).

The meeting was told that 217 projects had so far been approved for the merged areas which included projects relating to education, health, communication, irrigation, sports, law and justice, agriculture, energy and clean drinking water.

It was also briefed about the funds released by the federal government and spent on the development projects in the merged areas. The prime minister directed authorities concerned to accord priority to such projects in the next budget, in consultation with local leaders and public representatives, which besides catering to the immediate needs of the people would prove beneficial for the locals directly and in minimum duration.

Meanwhile, the prime minister separately met Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Maulana Tariq Jamil, MNAs Ibrahim Khan and Mohammad Afzal and MPA Mian Jalil Sharaqpuri.

Prime Minister Khan will pay a day-long visit to Lahore on Thursday (today) during which he will inaugurate various development projects, including low-cost housing schemes in several cities of Punjab.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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