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Hilal English

SIFC Building an Investor's Paradise: A Major Improvement in Pakistan's Investment Environment

June 2024

SIFC stands as Pakistan's beacon for transformative investment policies, driving tangible results in just one year. With a focused approach and proactive measures, it continues to pave the way for sustainable economic growth and investor confidence.



With the completion of one year of Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), we stand at a point where we can assess how things shaped up in the preceding year. Looking into the future, it's crucial to envision where SIFC and its sectors stand in terms of achievements, successes, and business. Before proceeding, it's pertinent to highlight that SIFC is primarily a facilitation council established to facilitate special investments in the country, hence the name Special Investment Facilitation Council.
At its establishment, SIFC focused on attracting investments from brotherly countries such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly China, and the rest of the world. To achieve this goal, SIFC formulated a complete hierarchy comprising three tiers: the Apex Committee, the Executive Committee, and the Implementation Committee. Each committee had specific responsibilities assigned to its members at various levels, with a primary focus on creating an investment-friendly ecosystem. As a facilitator and enabler, SIFC has performed excellently and has lived up to its mandate and terms of reference.


At its establishment, SIFC focused on attracting investments from brotherly countries such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, particularly China, and the rest of the world. 


Initially, SIFC identified five sectors that can be considered low-hanging fruits due to the readily available outcomes they offered. These included the agriculture, mining and minerals, energy, information technology, and defense sectors. After deliberations and recommendations by various stakeholders, a few more sectors were incorporated into the ambit of SIFC; tourism, industry and the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), education and human resource development, pharmacology, etc. 
It is worth noting that there has been some recent criticism in the media regarding SIFC. Concerns have been raised about the lack of foreign investment from friendly countries, despite promises of significant financial inflows to Pakistan. Although there have been pledges of up to USD 100 billion in investments, so far, no projects have been completed. In this article, I aim to address these criticisms, questions, and concerns.
First, SIFC is a platform dedicated to improving the investment climate, which involves achieving macroeconomic stability, ensuring policy consistency, expanding opportunities for private enterprise, and promoting and facilitating investment. When discussing domestic or foreign investments, these are the results of sound policies, a medium- to long-term focus, and diligent investor care. The performance benchmark for SIFC is not immediate investment inflows; rather, it aims to create an environment where Pakistan becomes a prime investment destination.
Keeping these aspects in mind, we should proceed further with enumerating SIFC's achievements in various sectors, which have practically improved the investment environment in Pakistan. In just one year of its establishment, SIFC has achieved landmarks that, under normal circumstances, couldn't have been achieved in one decade. 
The initiatives and policy interventions carried out by SIFC have made a marked impression on the country's business environment. A brief summary of SIFC's achievements is given below:
▪     Visa policy has been revised to eliminate unnecessary investment hurdles in the existing procedures by introducing the SIFC visa, which is issued within 24 hours of application.
▪    In order to provide quality seed to farmers with high survivability, the National Seed Development and Regulatory Authority (NSDRA) has been established, which not only ensures an increase in crop yield but also provides better advice and guidance to the farmers. 
▪     To reap the medicinal benefits of cannabis, a formal regulatory authority has been formulated, which has started working on the policy formulation and development of the concept in Pakistan.
▪  A comprehensive aquaculture policy has been formulated to facilitate the processing of fish and other sea and river foods for export to other countries. This policy ensures that processing meets international standards and quality, thereby enhancing the export potential of our fish and other aquatic products.
▪   The formulation of the National Space Policy and Rules has enabled Pakistan to practically shape its space policy. As a result, Pakistan successfully launched its first satellite into space, with a second satellite ready for launch.
▪   Through the Brownfield Refinery upgradation policy, Pakistan has been able to overcome a number of outstanding issues between the refineries and the government related to tariffs, payables, and other liabilities. Resultantly there is a lot of progress in the upgradation of the existing refineries to Euro-5 standard which will be helpful in provision of high quality petroleum to the consumers, which is compatible with international standards.
These are just a few examples of the achievements of SIFC in the past year. My assertion that what has been accomplished in less than one year through the platform of SIFC could not have been achieved even in a decade is based on the fact that the policies formulated, rules implemented, and decisions made had been held up by authorities for at least a decade. SIFC spared no effort in fostering harmony between provinces and the central government; it facilitated the resolution of hindrances between various departments through negotiation and achieved mutual consent on resolved issues.


In order to provide quality seed to farmers with high survivability, the National Seed Development and Regulatory Authority has been established, which not only ensures an increase in crop yield but also provides better advice and guidance to the farmers. 


Similarly, SIFC's achievements in improving the business and investment climate are unparalleled. In a short period, Pakistan has witnessed remarkable advancements. Pledges from friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar signify growing confidence in Pakistan's investment and business environment. Below are a few steps taken by SIFC to enhance the business and investment environment in the country:
▪  Initially, foreign investors were not allowed to repatriate their profits from investments in their home countries. This policy was prevalent in a number of departments, but the IT sector was the main victim of it. Through policy intervention and improvement, the government was able to improve the environment, which resulted in a massive increase in IT investments and exports.
▪  Foreign investors often encountered problems related to their investments when disputes arose between parties. There was no standard procedure or regulation to help them resolve these disputes, which eroded foreign investors' confidence and discouraged investments in Pakistan. Recognizing this issue, SIFC identified the need and, with the consent of all stakeholders, established an office of the Investment Ombudsman. This office is empowered to resolve disputes between contracting parties effectively.
▪   Similarly, the telecom and privatization appellate tribunals were established to reassure investors about any legal issues related to their projects.
▪  The Pakistan Missions Abroad and the Trade and Investment Officers did not have clear mandates related to investment facilitation and promotion, which have now been included in their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
▪     Initially aimed at attracting foreign investment, the scope of SIFC was expanded to also support local businesses. This step not only restored the confidence of local businessmen but also fostered a conducive environment for foreign businessmen.
▪   SIFC adopted a proactive engagement approach with investors by creating a dedicated council website. This ensured that investor queries, requests, and proposals were addressed within 48 hours.
Cited above are just a few aspects related to the SIFC and its contribution to promoting a business-friendly environment in the country. Comparing the achievements of SIFC since its establishment, we can conclude that before it, the investment environment was investor-repellent, with an unstable macroeconomic climate focused mainly on market-seeking rather than efficiency/export-oriented investments. 
SIFC identified all these issues and prepared a wholesome plan in consultation with the experts and stakeholders. The deliberation resulted in the establishment of the concept of a single window for investment facilitation, the creation of a long-term roadmap for growth and development, raising awareness of Pakistan's latent potential, and exploring new opportunities to expand cooperation. 
Based on everything mentioned above, it can be safely presumed that with continued support from stakeholders, particularly the general public, SIFC will achieve its stated objectives in a shorter timeframe.


 

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