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Progress in Sindh: a step at a time

CLOSE to the end of its second term, the Pakistan People’s Party government in Sindh appears to be gearing up to respond to development challenges as social indicators fail to show dividends of democracy and devolution for the teeming millions in the province.

It is hard to comment on the quality and pace of provincial growth in the absence of consolidated annual data on investment, job creation, capital formation, agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector.

Security issues and politicking in Sindh, where the population seems to be divided across all conceivable lines, politicians argue, consumes much of their attention for the most part of their rule.
Naheed Memon, who assumed the charge of the Sindh Board of Investment a year back, said the province was on the verge of an economic takeoff

They did try to blame the federal government for the tardy progress by mentioning less than their fair share of timely resource transfers, but in the absence of not much to show to justify whatever additional resources they did receive, their case was not convincing.

When, after over eight years of PPP rule, even the commercial capital, Karachi, is faced with water, housing, waste management and public transport crisis it is not hard to imagine what life would be like in smaller, less visible areas of the province.

It is not an accident that various reports post Sindh below Punjab and KP on the performance scale on basis of the social indicators of well-being.

“Indeed, governance is more challenging in Sindh than in any other federating unit. The situation is compounded by years of neglect and inefficiency, and an overbearing and obstructive bureaucracy. Senior officials identify the multiple power centres within the PPP as key factors for the anaemic growth and unfriendly business environment.

The leadership did concede that the perceived underperformance is not imaginary, particularly in comparison to Punjab, but believed that with quick corrections a turnaround in the province is possible by the end of the next year.

“CM Murad Ali Shah has succeeded in some measure in putting together an effective team, drawn on merit from the market, to visibly improve the quality of governance, curb capital transfer, grab donor attention, claim a share in the CPEC projects, close capacity gaps and improve the image of Sindh on the strength of its performance”, a top business executive, who is currently collaborating with the provincial government for some energy project, commented.

“We are constantly looking for technology savvy technocrats to strengthen the management capacity of the government. Removing deadwood from the administrative set up is difficult, but through the induction of efficient people at the top we intend to change the culture and the composition, starting with key departments”, CM Murad Ali Shah shared his thoughts on the subject privately with Dawn a few months back.

“The team is small but vibrant. The change will start manifesting by early 2017” he claimed, mentioning a few names in the IT cell, SRB, SBI, land revenue and planning departments. He also enumerated several flagship projects, mentioning Thar coal and a network of roads in rural Sindh.

Naheed Memon, a qualified woman with proven management credentials, who assumed the charge of Sindh Board of investment a year back, said the province was on the verge of an economic take off.

Talking to Dawn last week she said that after achieving a semblance of normalcy on political and security fronts, the focus is now on investment and the capitalisation of Sindh’s edge in human and natural resources. She said that the government is actively supporting anything and everything that could lift the province up and open it to innovative ideas and to integrate the private sector in its efforts.

“Things might not be moving at an ideal pace but there is mobilisation and stakeholders’ response is heartening”, she said. Her optimism, she stated, was rooted in her faith in Sindh and its potential, on the one hand, and the power of market on the other.

“Everyday new investment venues are emerging in Sindh attracting the attention of investors, widening the scope of Sindh Board of Investment as a facilitator and supporter. The fact is that there is more on the plate right now than we can chew”, she said dropping names of companies and groups approaching her.

Noting possible sectors where big investment injection over the year ahead are expected, she mentioned, mainstream and alternate energy, road and rail infrastructure, agri business and social sector. She said Sindh is ahead of the rest in public private partnership. To attract dependable and reputable private investors and provide them the comfort of legal cover, Sindh enacted the Public Private Partnership Law and rules back in 2010.

Naheed said that unlike other places, Sindh has been able to work out proposals where overseas private companies are committing to pour in investment without sovereign guarantee on returns.

“The centre is bending backwards promising, in some cases, up to 20 years of guarantee of attractive returns along with other incentives to neutralise perceived risks. I believe that less costly deals are possible with proper homework”.

She further stated that Sindh is now not only aggressively pursuing projects under the CPEC, but also beyond it.

“We are considering several other deals wherein Chinese companies have shown an inclination to commit. The largest in pipeline is by Yankuang Mining and Sukkar Electric Power Company (Sepco), a coal mining and power company of Oracle Coalfields (an AIM listed company. AIM is a sub-market of London Stock Exchange). The deal, if materialised, will see the country’s largest $2bn investment in the sector” she boasted.

Talking about hurdles she mentioned the reluctance of local banks to provide project financing particularly to smaller aspirants. “We are launching investment funds backed by consortiums to plug the resource gap. Small Enterprise Development Fund (SEDF) has been established in Sindh to promote agribusiness”.

Talking of other initiatives she mentioned special economic zones and industrial parks, education city, marble city, etc.

“You need to be confident yourself to be able to convince others of the viability of an opportunity. If a proposal makes business sense, there is no dearth of investors sitting on funds waiting for the right avenue to invest in”, she remarked.

Courtesy : Dawn News



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