Corporate-government partnership

  • But are mere reforms enough?

Never was the need of a corporate-government charter higher than now. With the country’s beleaguered economy facing enormous debts, meager tax base, large trade deficit, looming IMF conditions, and yawning fiscal imbalances, the government is left with hardly any other option but to do away with subsidies, increase taxes and resort to unprecedented austerity. These measures have started exerting extreme inflationary pressures on the masses, especially the middle income and lower social segments.

Amid captain’s call to fasten safety belts for a very turbulent flight at least until financial year 2021, the only and true hope lies with the business sector, the standard bearer of the economy. Several years ago, the Americans had accepted the fact that business executives were real members of nation’s leadership. That hour has arrived for Pakistan. It is not a coincidence that our finance minister and advisor on commerce and investment have been business executives.

Today, people are looking to businessmen with more heightened expectations for pulling the country out of the existing deep financial crisis. In line with its people-centric agenda, as the government is focusing on partnering with people, professionals and civil society for joint effort to tackle economic challenge, government’s prime partners must be business leaders. Forging a multi-dimensional relationship between private sector and the government should be a top national agenda and an end in itself instead of one of the means to reduce unemployment and poverty which anyway will take place once the business sector gains strength.

In the current transition lies an opportunity as the new government has been formed by mostly non-traditional politicians. The change has offered a window to craft robust and institutionalised corporate-government collaboration that could lead to a turnaround for the better, popularly termed as “Naya Pakistan”.

Over twenty two years ago, Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf was conceived as a campaign for socio-economic justice. The financial empowerment of masses depends largely on creation of jobs mostly in the private sector and creation of wealth for society, and herein comes the spearheading role of the business sector. This was the prime reason that PTI leader Imran Khan chose then Engro chief Asad Umar as his man for the job. Among other credentials was Umar’s successful stewardship of Pakistan Business Council (PBC), a business policy advocacy forum mandated to improve business environment by working closely with government departments and institutions.

It is therefore time to engage business leaders in the decision making process, as proposed by PBC in its 2018 report titled “Make in Pakistan”. The establishment of a Council of Business Leaders by Premier Khan is a right initiative in that direction. But there is also a need for an overarching apex body representing industrialists, traders and corporate executives. This forum, to be chaired by the finance minister, may include head of Council of Business Leaders, chairman of Pakistan Business Council, President of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA), President of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI), Governor State Bank of Pakistan and chairmen of Board of Investment and Federal Board of Revenue. This body may meet regularly to discuss ways to make private-public interaction effective in addition to taking up policy matters, reforms and complaints from businessmen.

On 5 November 2018, delivering a keynote speech at the opening event of China Import Expo in Shanghai, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed desire to make Naya Pakistan a “more competitive place for transacting business”

Another step indicating government’s understanding of issues confronting business sector is to ensure uninterrupted gas and electricity supply to industries. A beginning has been made by promising continued gas flow to five export-oriented industries. Other measures that are yet to be implemented include provision of energy supply to industries at a uniform and regionally competitive rate coupled with reduced regulatory duties, a national tariff policy and digitalisation of financial services. These measures primarily for boosting exports are also aimed at improving country’s ranking in ease of doing business index.

But the question is that will reforms coupled with tariff and fiscal incentives alone be sufficient to create a business friendly sentiment if aspersions on business activities and executives are cast perpetually? It is common knowledge that in addition to business regulatory regimes, foreign investors also look at other factors including the nature of inquiries and harassments against businesses. The government will have to treat businessmen as monolith instead of looking at them through a prism of political affiliation. Corporate executives in most of the cases have the foremost affiliation with the progress of their companies and prosperity of their motherland. While polarisation has been seen in other professional communities, business sector cannot afford to be treated through a fragmented approach. It has been witnessed how businessmen have often been caught in political crossfires. In its enthusiasm for accountability, the government will be wise to tread this path in a prudent manner if a win-win relation between the two has to be built.

On 5 November 2018, delivering a keynote speech at the opening event of China Import Expo in Shanghai, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed desire to make Naya Pakistan a “more competitive place for transacting business.” This goal will be achieved if corporate sector and the government develop trust in each other. Boosting confidence on both sides must be the overall objective of formalised corporate-government partnership. For this to happen an array of reforms and incentives by the government will have to be accompanied by creation of an environment in which businessmen begin to feel secure from harassment and inquiries.


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