Karachi (Muhammad Yasir) Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Overseas Pakistanis & HRD has said that there are plans to set up speedy justice courts for land disputes of overseas Pakistanis. He was in a discussion with Mr. Azfar Ahsan Founder of Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG) and Nutshell Group in an online live session from CPG Dialogue platform titled ‘The Way Forward for Pakistan’.
Mr. Bukhari gave details of his government’s efforts to help overseas Pakistanis and said that previously only blue-collar workers were considered under his ministry but now they have changed it for all Pakistanis overseas, including the citizens of second and third generations of Pakistani origin families.
He said that before COVID, just in 18 months, his ministry has been able to place close to a million people overseas; “it is a record in itself if we analyze the data from the last 20 years in comparison, and this is mostly due to the good will of the Prime Minister and his relationship with other countries.” He pointed out that many of the problems of overseas Pakistanis have been resolved and after several years the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) has handed over the land to overseas Pakistanis in Islamabad.
He also shared that amongst other steps taken by his ministry, measures are being taken to allow overseas Pakistanis to not only participate in elections but also run for office. He said that previously, benefits were derived from overseas Pakistanis but when it came to elections, they were ignored which is going to change now.
Referring to the successful Roshan Digital Account he said the ultimate aim is to convert it into digital banking. Discussing the problem of Hundi, he said that the government is trying to attract overseas Pakistanis away from the use of Hundi and Hawala, but to do that we have to match the ease of transfer and are working on it. “With Roshan Digital Accounts, we are working to introduce different incentives programs to curb these indirect means of transferring money to the country”.
Zulfikar Bukhari also talked about the PM’s vision and working on presenting the Ordinance in the cabinet to bring majority of the country’s informal employment under the government’s pension scheme. He said “our ultimate target is to bring this pension at par with minimum wages in the country”.
In response to a question about assistance to SMEs planned by overseas Pakistanis, Mr. Bukhari said that all efforts are being made to make it a one-window operation which also allows repatriation of funds with ease of doing business. He said he is trying to shift the entire operation directly under the PM so that swift decisions can be taken. About financing for SMEs, he said that the Bank of Punjab and Roshan Digital account are working on it. Zulfikar Bukhari also touched upon the criticism on the government for restricting import of mobile phones, but that the outcome of this measure is that three factories will soon be producing mobiles locally.
Replying to a question about vocational training he said he admits that HRD is written as part of his ministry but in reality, it is with the education department. He said as far as NAVTTC is concerned we are now giving only demand-based training instead of historical ways of supply-based trainings. In this context, the Pakistani government has signed an agreement with Japan to provide them manpower and also for the first time, agents will be allowed to visit Japan to gauge their demand for manpower and source back from Pakistan.
In response to a question regarding the prevailing confusion about the number of prisoners freed in Saudi Arabia he said that the figure is around 2500 which includes those 700 to 800 sentenced prisoners who get a special waiver from Prince Mohammed bin Salman and others serving their terms; and then there are those whose cases are still ongoing but were in jail there. He said we have so far also obtained the release of 8000 Pakistani nationals imprisoned around the world which is by far the highest in comparison to even combined numbers of the last four governments.
About the low ranking of Pakistani passport globally, he said it depends on many factors including bilateral agreements, securities, travel advisories, flying policies, ease of getting visa, visa free agreements etc. and also considering that our visa fee is also quite high. Only recently he said the Dominican Republic has requested us to allow visa-free entry to its citizens and they are willing to reciprocate the same. He said we have to come out of restrictive policies to improve our situation.
About prospects of tourism Industry in Pakistan, he said, it has a great future as now tourists are coming not only in summers but in large numbers during winters as well; “we have established National Tourism Board and did numerous things including a 5-year action plan and 10 years tourism policy. The plan is to have Integrated Tourism Zones in each province where all tourism related infrastructure and facilities are available. We have asked each province to make at least 10 ITZs in each province”.
He sees a lot of boom in the tourism industry and said that in the next 5 to 7 years tourism industry of Pakistan is shaping up as the biggest industry of the country. His ministry is promoting Public Private Partnership for tourism industry and creating more avenues to private investors to explore in tourism industry. Huge investments have already started coming into the country in this sector. He mentioned that in the next two years, before the term of this government ends, he is estimating another 26 to 32 new big three to five stars hotels will going to be opened. No other country in the world has shown this kind of growth and that too during the COVID times.
He said in September this year, to further promote tourism in country, a worldwide campaign ‘Brand Pakistan’ will be launched with a dedicated web portal that will have all the required information about tourism in Pakistan including a calendar of all the festival events.
Mr. Zulfi Bukhari said that work is also being done for structural changes in Bureaucracy reforms. He acknowledged that for the masses, the main issue is inflation, and if we can curb that and bring our growth to 5.5%, it will result in overall improvement in the country.