Govt clips NAB powers to shield businessmen

KARACHI: In a move to assuage the frequently stated reservations of businessmen vis-à-vis the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said the government has promulgated an ordinance to curtail certain powers of the national graft-buster.

The prime minister was speaking at a ceremony organised in Karachi by the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) to recognise Top 25-listed companies. The PSX Top 25 Companies Awards is an annual tradition where “best of the best” companies are selected on the basis of comprehensive criteria that include: a) capital efficiency, b) profitability, c) free float of shares, d) transparency, e) corporate governance and investor relations and f) regulatory compliance.

The distinguished list includes companies from a broad spectrum of sectors, such as power generation and distribution, fast moving consumers, oil refineries, etc. The 2019 list of Top 25 companies represented a mix of local conglomerates, such as Engro Corporation and multinational companies, such Colgate Palmolive Pakistan Ltd. The latter was particularly recognised as one of the select few companies that have made it to the list of top 25 companies consecutively in the last three years – in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The six companies that made it to the Top 25 list over the last three consecutive years are Archroma Pakistan Ltd, Colgate Palmolive Pakistan Ltd, Atlas Honda Ltd, Arif Habib Ltd, United Bank Ltd, and Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd.

Speaking at the ceremony, the prime minister called for incentivising the industries, helping the business community and focusing on the small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to boost the national economy. He said the business community has expressed a fear of NAB in every meeting with him, as the anti-corruption watchdog was “free to probe” anyone.

“It is important to keep the business community off limit to NAB because it is one of the biggest hurdles for them,” he said before congratulating them on this relief.

“It is our contention that NAB should engage in scrutiny of public office-holders only. For the business community, there is the FBR [Federal Board of Revenue] and other institutions as well as courts,” the prime minister added.

He announced that the government has promulgated an ordinance, insulating the businessmen from any NAB action. He added that the state would not only ensure “equal justice for all” but also ensure that its citizens are treated with dignity.

Highlighting the importance of traders and investors in turning Pakistan into an economically-strong and welfare state, the premier pledged all possible facilities to the business community. “[It’s] the government’s job to facilitate, and the traders have to focus on wealth creation,” he stressed.

He cited the example of China, which focused on trade and wealth creation, and lifted 700 million of its citizens out of poverty in 30 years. “No state can progress without wealth creation and the government will provide every possible facility to the business community for this purpose,” he added.

Imran dismissed criticism of the government’s economic policies, saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) did not “inherit the economy of Sweden” when it came to power in 2018. “Pakistan had Rs30 trillion debt at that time,” he said.

However, the incumbent government during the last one year alone has got the country improved in terms of ease of doing business in the world by 28 points as against the previous government’s 2013-18 tenure when Pakistan was on the brink of economic and institutional collapse.

“We had to take some hard steps, so that the country would not default. All those who understand this issue know what would have happened [in case of a default] and we have seen that happening in the Latin American countries and Lebanon,” he said.

After a difficult period in the first year of the government, the prime minister said, the march to progress has begun. He added that 2020 would be the year of growth in Pakistan. “The rupee has stabilised now and investors have confidence. The next year will dawn with growth of industry, small- and medium-enterprises and incentives for investors and businessmen,” he told the audience.

“The interest rate is high right now but, we will bring it down,” he said. “We will focus on attracting investments and try to give jobs to the youth and create an atmosphere where economic growth will be possible. We have to help investors, help businesses, and focus on job creation.”

The prime minister also spoke of the tourism sector’s potential in jobs creation, especially after the country has been named as one of the top destinations for travellers. He asked the business community to come forward for the development of “our tourist spots and promote the hospitality industry” to facilitate the tourism sector.

Profit-making vs profiteering

Assuring the traders of more steps for ease of doing business, the prime minister said if businessmen and investors prosper, the country would progress, and achieve economic growth and development. “We want people to make money,” he added. “We will see that there is ease in doing business.”

Imran said the introduction of the socialist system, though it was better in terms of welfare of the masses in the 1960s, changed the mindset and profit-making was considered as a bad thing. “There is a difference between profiteering and profit-making,” but the government is changing that mindset to attract investors, he added.

Imran said the vision of Pakistan was based on the principles of State of Madina. The two basic fundamentals of that vision, he said, were compassion and justice. “Any country could be turned into an independent and great nation by following these two principles.”

The State of Madina, which was run on those two fundamentals, had defeated the two superpowers of its time and transformed Muslims into a great nation that ruled the world for 700 years, the prime minister said.

He added that the same vision provide a direction and roadmap to achieve the objectives of Pakistan’s creation, and the businessmen and traders have an important role in that regard through wealth creation.

Earlier, Prime Minister’s Adviser for Finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh presented government’s stabilisation measures. He said the government mobilised over $20 billion to repay $10 billion debt and to correct the situation of historic $20 billion current account deficit, $32 billion trade deficit, an inflating Rs30 trillion loans, besides a huge circular debt etc.

“Now with the stable exchange rate, growing stock exchange, reduced current account and trade deficits, and the endorsement of economic stability by the international financial institutions, the positive effects of the government’s stabilisation measures have started to come.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, speaking on the occasion, also highlighted the government’s economic achievements and criticised the opposition parties for only talking about negative things and not appreciating the government’s successes.

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