The newly established Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a hybrid civil-military forum – is leading the drive to fast-track economic development to address the financial woes of the country.
The list of the approved projects suggests that if all the schemes are picked up by countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, the quantum of investment under the SIFC banner can be greater than the $28 billion under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), The Express Tribune reported.
The approved schemes are in the food, agriculture, information technology, mines and minerals, petroleum and power sectors. They include cattle farms; the $10 billion Saudi Aramco refinery; explorations of copper and gold in Chagai; and the Thar Coal Rail connectivity scheme.
The initial project also includes the Diamer-Bhasha dam which has also been offered to China for investment under CPEC.
The CPEC is a collection of infrastructure and other projects under construction throughout Pakistan since 2013.
In order to give legal cover to the SIFC working, parliament already approved a host of amendments to the Pakistan Army Act and the Board of Investment (BOI) Ordinance.
Amendments to the Election Act have also been introduced to ensure the continuity of work on these schemes during the tenure of the caretaker government.
These laws will provide fast-track execution of the initially approved 28 multi-billion dollar investment projects, besides ensuring immunity to the decision-makers from any kind of investigation by various anti-graft bodies.
Another law, the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund, is also in the pipeline that will provide equity to the SIFC-approved projects for both joint ventures with foreign nations or single ownership schemes.
The assets of seven profitable state-owned entities, including blue-chip companies, are being transferred in the wealth fund for utilisation on the projects approved by the SIFC.
Pakistan has set up the SIFC for what Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described as a move to “foster synergy between the federal and provincial governments to facilitate timely decision making; avoid duplication of efforts; enhance investor confidence, and ensure swift project implementation”.
The Express Tribune quoted sources as saying that the government had identified 23 countries for pitching these projects but the main focus would be on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.
Pakistan will issue priority visas to the citizens of these countries in an attempt to achieve swift execution of the schemes.
However, the challenge will be at the execution stage, as even the strategic projects, including the CPEC, could not fully materialise because of a host of issues including bureaucratic snags, Pakistan’s backtracking on its sovereign commitments to China, and its indecisiveness about geopolitical alignments.
Islamabad and Beijing had planned a total $62 billion investment under CPEC but so far, less than a sum of $28 billion has been materialised.
Pakistan narrowly avoided a sovereign default last month after the prime minister as well as the military establishment took economic decisions in their own hands and reached a new $3 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The civil-military leadership has now planned to jointly run the economy aimed at attracting investment from the Gulf countries to enhance Pakistan’s non-debt inflows and reduce reliance on imports.
The sources said the majority of these projects would be executed on a government-to-government basis. Some of them could be offered for international competitive bidding, they added.
The apex committee of the SIFC approved a project for corporate farming on 10,000 acres in the Cholistan desert that will be later extended to 85,000 acres. The sources said Qatar was interested in this farm to meet its food security needs.
The SIFC’s apex body also approved the setting up of a dairy company holding 20,000 Holstein Friesian animals (an international breed of dairy cattle) and the number of farms could be extended to five or more, according to the decision.
It also endorsed the establishment of a corporate feedlot farm of 30,000 animals that could also be extended to five or more.
Similarly, the SIFC gave the nod to the establishment of a corporate camel farm of 10,000 animals that could also be extended to five or more.
The SIFC has given the nod to the Chiniot Iron Ore project, the Barite-Lead-Zinc project, and the explorations of copper and gold in Chagai as well as lead and zinc in Khuzdar.
The SIFC approved a Saudi Aramco oil refinery costing $10 billion and the TAPI Gas Pipeline Project for investment under its umbrella.
The sources continued that the SIFC had approved the setting up of technology zones, a project for investment in the optical fibre network, the establishment of Cloud infrastructure and a semiconductor designer, manufacturing of smart devices, a global skill hub scheme and various centres of excellence.
Some major projects in the power sector have been identified for sharing with the Gulf countries for investment purposes. These included the multibillion-dollar Diamer-Bhasha Dam and Thar Coal Block II. The Solar PV Project at the locations of Layyah and Jhang have also been endorsed.
Similarly, a hydropower project at Rajdhani, two transmission Lines from Ghazi Barotha to Faisalabad and Matiari to Rahim Yar Khan have also been approved by the SIFC. A Reactive Power Compensation Devices project and battery storage for frequency regulation were also part of the plan, said the sources.
The SIFC also gave the nod to conducting a feasibility study on a project for construction of a water reservoir for excess flood water for irrigation in Cholistan and it sought a progress report on Chashma Right Bank Canal Project, according to The Express Tribune.
Cash-strapped Pakistan’s economy has been in a free fall mode for the last many years, bringing untold pressure on the poor masses in the form of unchecked inflation, making it almost impossible for a vast number of people to make ends meet.
The economic situation has never been so grim in a country which since independence has thrice seen military coups and the ouster of elected governments.
Their woes increased manyfold after last year’s catastrophic floods that killed more than 1,700 people and caused massive economic losses.