The end of September 2023 marked the completion of the first one hundred days since the inception of the Special Investment Facilitation Council. Reflecting on this milestone, this paper analyzes the progress made by the SIFC during the past one hundred days and outlines expectations for its short-term, mid-term, and long-term impact. To date, the Council has conducted several meetings during which significant decisions were made and implemented across the board.
The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is a government initiative in Pakistan that aims to bring together civilian and military expertise to unlock the country's financial potential by attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The primary objective of establishing the SIFC was to accelerate the investment process and streamline administrative obstacles in the field of investment. To achieve this, the inclusion of the military within the framework of the SIFC was modeled after similar approaches in modern nations like China, Malaysia, Korea, and others. The military leadership collaborates with the civilian government, providing support, guidance, and, when necessary, leadership in the execution of their responsibilities. To empower the SIFC in fulfilling its mission, relevant provisions have been incorporated into the constitution. The Council operates in three tiers, consisting of the Apex Committee, the Executive Committee, and the Implementation Committee.
By employing a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to provide a one-stop destination, the Council aims to eliminate investment obstacles, enhance investor confidence, expedite decision-making, streamline cooperation between the federal government and the provinces, and accelerate the implementation of ongoing projects. The SIFC serves as a vital decision-making platform with a mission to drive essential economic and structural reforms.
Utilizing the SIFC platform, Pakistan's potential in various sectors, resources, and portfolios is being actively explored. Comprehensive studies are underway to assess the feasibility of mining rare earth minerals in the northern and western regions of the country.
The SIFC has identified five key sectors that represent low-hanging fruit and have the potential to significantly boost Pakistan's economy in a short period. These sectors include agriculture, minerals and mining, information technology (IT), energy, and defense production. Additionally, privatizing state-owned enterprises (SOEs), promoting tourism, and developing fisheries have recently been recognized as having the potential to make substantial contributions to the country's economy when placed under the guidance of the Council.
The Council was established on June 20, 2023. Since its inception, it has operated at a rapid pace to execute its objectives. The end of September 2023 marked the completion of the first one hundred days of the Special Investment Facilitation Council. This paper reflects on the Council's progress during this initial period and outlines expectations for its short-term, mid-term, and long-term impact. Thus far, the Council has conducted numerous meetings during which significant decisions were made and implemented comprehensively.
Starting with the primary goal of attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the government has broadened the scope of SIFC to encompass domestic economic concerns. This expanded focus aims to address the challenges faced by local investors and rectify economic issues. Under the guidance of SIFC, the performance of foreign diplomatic missions has been a subject of discussion at the SIFC forum, resulting in process improvements. One notable improvement has been the revision of the visa policy to facilitate foreign investors, particularly in the context of business-to-business (B2B), government-to-government (G2G), and business-to-government (B2G) business ventures.
So far, SIFC has identified and allocated resources for a minimum of twenty projects with the aim of attracting multibillion-dollar investments in the form of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Utilizing the SIFC platform, Pakistan's potential in various sectors, resources, and portfolios is being actively explored. Comprehensive studies are underway to assess the feasibility of mining rare earth minerals in the northern and western regions of the country.
In the agricultural sector, significant strides have been made in optimizing land usage. This involves bringing over five million acres of arable land, currently lying fallow, into productive cultivation. This transformation includes land reclamation in desert areas, irrigation, and the consolidation of agricultural land in rural regions to enable the adoption of modern machinery. As a result, agricultural waste is expected to decrease substantially. Currently, due to the use of outdated machinery and harvesting equipment, at least twenty percent of grain is lost, compared to just one to two percent wastage when modern equipment is employed.
The SIFC has decided to implement a plan for corporate contracts and cooperative farming on private land, by instituting tax holidays, financial incentives, risk mitigation techniques, and establishment of special authorities at provincial levels. Various projects that have been identified for acceleration of the process include national and international contracts with oil refinery companies, energy sectors, coal and mining enterprises, hydropower projects, cloud-based infrastructures, installation of solar projects, and advanced telecom facilities.
Taking a proactive and forward-thinking approach while learning from past mistakes, SIFC has engaged financial advisers to develop strategies for offering stakes to foreign investors. This approach is designed to prevent conflicts and, in the event that conflicts do arise, to enable amicable resolution. As a result of this effort, the Council has successfully executed numerous selected projects in a standardized format, backed by a bankable feasibility study.
Significant progress has been achieved in various areas, including the privatization of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), enhancing the efficiency of Distribution Companies (DISCOs), and addressing the long outstanding Reko Diq project.
In the agricultural sector, significant strides have been made in optimizing land usage. This involves bringing over five million acres of arable land, currently lying fallow, into productive cultivation. This transformation includes land reclamation in desert areas, irrigation, and the consolidation of agricultural land in rural regions to enable the adoption of modern machinery.
Now that more than a hundred days have passed since its inception, the Council has started getting recognition by local as well as foreign investors. The signing of numerous agreements with the local and international investors, totaling over hundreds of millions of dollars, indicates the revival of confidence in the ability of Pakistan to deliver and enhance national and international investment opportunities. This has been achieved through ensuring continuity of policy, improvement in sustainability, and guaranteeing the security of investors and their investments. Importantly, measures have been implemented to safeguard policies, rules, and regulations from being influenced by changes in government or political regimes. This commitment to stability and consistency is evident in the visits of delegations from friendly nations such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and Turkiye, reaffirming the Council's claims and objectives.
At the national level, SIFC has played a pivotal role in addressing the issue of hoarding by identifying its root causes and providing guidance to the local government on how to eliminate these harmful practices. The Council's impact goes beyond visa policy improvements; it has also actively identified and initiated measures to address the issue of illegal immigration—a sensitive and pressing concern. The implementation of these steps is progressing rapidly, promising increased opportunities for local investors and the restoration of confidence among the Pakistani population. These efforts will directly benefit the people of Pakistan and contribute to their well-being.
Various projects that have been identified for acceleration of the process include national and international contracts with oil refinery companies, energy sectors, coal and mining enterprises, hydropower projects, cloud-based infrastructures, installation of solar projects, and advanced telecom facilities.
There is an urgent need to prioritize indigenous production of everyday commodities to reduce our dependence on imports. Currently, we are importing items like dog food, lotions, creams, razor blades, biscuits, and other non-essential goods. This overreliance on imports, often for items of minimal significance, hampers our self-sufficiency.
A lack of research in metallurgy further compounds this issue, leading to the importation of machine parts. To promote self-reliance and boost the local industry, it is essential to reduce our reliance on imports and encourage the establishment of domestic industries.
If allowed to continue, SIFC is likely to achieve a lot of objectives in the near future. If we divide the timeline in three zones of short-term, mid-term, and long-term objectives, following are my expectations:
Now that more than a hundred days have passed since its inception, the Council has started getting recognition by local as well as foreign investors. The signing of numerous agreements with the local and international investors, totaling over hundreds of millions of dollars, indicates the revival of confidence in the ability of Pakistan to deliver and enhance national and international investment opportunities.
▪ Short-term Expectations (Two to Three Years). In the short term of up to three years, it is expected that SIFC will be able to bring to fruition the projects which are held up owing to bureaucratic hurdles, lack of coordination between the Federal Government and the provinces, documentary requirements, and other immaterial aspects. The loss-making SOEs like PIA, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), DISCOs, and other similar enterprises will either be privatized on suitable terms, or will be realigned on the modern customs of a lean and efficient system. It is expected that more than three hundred thousand acres of arable land, which remained uncultivated hitherto, will be cultivated and the yield of traditional farms will be enhanced by the use of modern techniques. The youth will be able to earn money through the use of IT. Investors will start pouring in the country through lucrative advertising of the possible investment opportunities. The repatriation of illegal immigrants will improve the security environment, help restoration of business in the country, and will provide opportunities to the local people to get jobs and establish businesses. All these measures will help in controlling inflation and restoration of confidence in the people.
▪Mid-term Expectations (Four to Seven Years). In the mid-term, it is expected that the Pakistani Rupee will stabilize, exports will strengthen, and the savings from the privatization of loss-making enterprises will be directed toward development projects. The business environment will witness significant improvements, ultimately leading to an enhanced quality of life for the general population. As commodity prices decrease and domestic production increases, particularly for items commonly imported, Pakistan will be able to slow down the emigration rate of its citizens.
▪Long-term Expectations (Eight to Twelve Years). If allowed to prevail, Pakistan will have embarked on the road of prosperity and success in the comity of nations. It is wished and expected that by 2035, Pakistan will stand among the top ten most prosperous nations of the world.
While SIFC plays a pivotal role in boosting and revitalizing the country's economy, it faces several challenges that need to be addressed for maximum benefit. The primary impediment to revitalization is the capacity within the existing government organizations, which necessitates significant restructuring to make them lean, efficient, and effective.
Ensuring policy continuity and its comprehensive implementation is essential to restore investor confidence in the system. Typically, new ideas, concepts, or systems encounter resistance within governmental structures due to inherent inertia, presenting another challenge that must be addressed.
SIFC has rapidly established itself as a promoter of security, stability, and progress for Pakistan in the international community. It is a testament to the diligent efforts of the civil-military establishment working in synergy. The Council is fully capable of achieving its objectives at an accelerated pace. The key is to have faith in the process and provide unwavering support to the organization.
The author is a PhD scholar in Management Sciences with extensive experience in Project Management.
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