Expats and development

Alauddin Masood wonders why more efforts are not made to encourage Pakistanis living abroad to invest in their home country

Expats and development
Many countries, including China, India, Indonesia and South Korea have succeeded in accelerating the pace of their socio-economic growth and development, benefitting from the skills and financial resources of their expatriate population.

Take the case of China. The Chinese diaspora has played an important role in China’s modernisation and socio-economic progress. From 1979 to 1997, over two-thirds of all foreign capital flowing into China was contributed by the ethnic Chinese. Before 1978, the Chinese overseas contributed mainly in the form of remittances to family members because of instability in China. However, after 1978, a stable China was able to attract investments from the ethnic Chinese which, in turn, attracted investments from other sources as well.

China’s policy toward the diaspora has been changing, remaining throughout in tandem with its changing priorities in national development. For example, “attracting trade and luring capital” (which constituted the main plank of the Chinese policy towards the overseas Chinese in the first two decades after the 1979 reform) has successfully uplifted China to become the second largest economy in the world. Now, “attracting talent and luring knowledge” has become the catchword for its new policy, which focuses on recruiting global talents of Chinese ethnicity. This strategy is in line with China’s new national policy in moving away from a low-end production workshop of the world to an innovative country capable of producing high value-added products.
Numbering in millions, Pakistani diaspora, scattered in different parts of the world as guest workers, is filling the human resource gap and augmenting the services sector of their adopted countries. By and large, they feel concerned when their country of origin is in political or economic turmoil

If we cast a look at the policies of the Indian, Armenian and Jewish diaspora, we find that these have influenced the homeland policies of those countries. In India’s case, powerful Indian-American organisations have lobbied to influence international relations through US intervention. An example is the US-India Political Action Committee, which was founded in 2001, and which takes the America-Israel Political Action Committee as its model. In 1993, the India Caucus was created in the House of Representatives; by 2003, it had over 175 members. In 2004, an India Caucus was also established in the Senate. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Indian-American lobby resulted in President Clinton urging the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to withdraw from the Line of Control’s Indian side.

In short, many countries have succeeded in achieving an economic turnaround by motivating their citizens abroad to make investments in the motherland. However, investments depend upon a country’s political stability, credibility and continuity in its economic policies. So far, a majority of expatriate Pakistanis, who have been visiting their homeland for exploring the possibilities of making investments, have left after feeling disgusted due to corruption, poor law and order, Bhatta mafia, and chronic energy shortages till the recent past. While China’s model focuses on attracting FDI, trade and ethnic Chinese talents; it pains one to note that in the absence of a clear national policy, the Pakistani diaspora feels impelled either to invest in safe havens abroad or to contribute in the form of home remittances, instead of FDI.

Numbering in millions, Pakistani diaspora, scattered in different parts of the world as guest workers, is filling the human resource gap and augmenting the services sector of their adopted countries. By and large, the overseas Pakistanis feel concerned when their country of origin is in political or economic turmoil. At a time when Pakistan is facing an economic crunch, it is the need of the hour to invoke patriotic sentiments of the overseas Pakistanis and involve them in easing pressure on the country’s economy.

We have about five million expatriate adult Pakistanis across the world. Drawing upon their patriotic sentiments, if the government could motivate them to remit to their families in Pakistan US$ 1,000 each through normal banking channels, we may succeed in receiving, within days, about US$5 billion in foreign exchange. While the expatriates’ families will get an amount equal to their remittances in Pakistani rupees, the foreign exchange generated will considerably ease pressure on the national economy.

Furthermore, the government may draw-up plans to use the skills and resources of the overseas Pakistanis for speedier development of the country and de-radicalising the Pakistani youth, using the expatriates’ services – rather pivotal role – in conflict mitigation and resolution by training and engaging the youth in developmental activities. This step will also help curb violence and reduce the level of frustration and anger in the minds of the youth, who constitute about 45 percent of the country’s population but are prone to radicalisation due to poverty and lack of better education or employment opportunities.

Like disaster management mechanism which aims to effectively deal with natural disasters, the tools of conflict management mechanism (like early warning and early response, mediation, negotiations and arbitration) can be used to evolve a strategy to regulate and lower the intensity of conflicts so that these do not transform into violent situations. These techniques, some of which also form an integral part of the scientific public communication (ethical PR), if practiced both in letter and spirit, can play a great role, in luring and winning over the appropriate publics, following the process  illustrated through the accompanying diagram.

It may be noted that all professionally sound and experienced PR practitioners try to remain abreast of the public opinion, shifts in it and the reasons for the change in public opinion so that they can provide the necessary input to the management that may enable the organization’s top hierarchy to tailor policies in keeping with the needs, views and opinion of the public. The energy thus released from the conflict-prone situations could be used for transforming the attitude, behaviour and perceptions of major stakeholders, who were hitherto involved in conflicts.

We do hope that the authorities would devise a strategy for involving the overseas Pakistanis in the country’s socio-economic development and motivating them in making investments in the country’s trade and industrial sectors. Amongst pre-requisites, the authorities need to make a beginning by bringing down the cost of doing business, especially the fuel and electricity charges. Presently, on every litre of petrol and diesel, consumers pay about Rs40 as taxes; whereas electricity consumers have to pay about 65 percent over and above the actual cost of electricity consumed by them in the shape of GST, FC Surcharge, TR Surcharge, NJ Surcharge and PTV Fee.

Furthermore, banks do not open accounts of new firms (whether small, medium or large) unless they have FBR issued NTN (National Tax Number); while FBR does not provide NTN unless a firm has a bank account and a business record for at least three months. This frustrating impediment needs to be removed so that firms could open bank accounts and obtain NTN without hassle.

If we really wish to provide a conducive climate for trade and industry, we need to curtail the number of official organizations, whether federal or provincial, dealing with the private sector at present. If the overseas Pakistanis find the investment climate conducive in their homeland, they may invest here and also encourage their foreign friends to do so.

Alauddin Masood is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad.

E-mail: alauddinmasood@gmail.com