KARACHI: In an event that resembled a corporate shareholders’ meeting, the government of Punjab set out to make the province’s case as a destination for investment to Karachi’s financial and industrial elite at an investment conference at the Sheraton Hotel on Monday.
Addressing a packed hall, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif personally made the case for his province, citing the reforms undertaken by his government to improve the ease of doing business in Punjab. He was preceded by the Harvard-educated Pir Saad Ahsanuddin, CEO of the Punjab Board of Investment and Trade who outlined the several ways in which the province has made doing business easier.
Among the highlights was the creation of the PBIT itself, which is designed to serve as an intermediary between the government and investors and entrepreneurs. Mr Ahsanuddin’s presentation, which was the core of the provincial government’s case, was frank about several of the challenges confronted by the province including the power shortage and terrorism. Regarding terrorism, Mr Ahsanuddin pointed out that a person is 57 times more likely to be murdered in Washington DC than be killed in an act of terrorism in Lahore.
Power was a somewhat more thorny issue. The PBIT acknowledged that power has been a long-term problem for the country as a whole and invited the attendees to submit proposals for power generation projects. The government of Punjab was particularly interested in highlighting its coal reserves, which seemed somewhat misplaced given the fact that the overwhelming bulk of Pakistan’s coal reserves – estimated to be the second-largest in the world – are in the province of Sindh.
The conference itself, however, was billed as an event seeking to attract investment in “sectors that are most relevant to investors from Karachi who are looking for low energy-intensive projects,” according to the conference’s promotional materials, a reflection of the energy-starved nature of the Pakistani economy. In a repeat of the conference held in Lahore in February by the PBIT, after the speeches and presentations, the PBIT made several government officials available to other investors for networking opportunities in sector-specific break-out sessions. This is one of the segments of the conference that has gotten the most favourable reviews from past attendees.
Representatives from companies across the globe attended the event including firms from the United States, South Korea, China and others parts of the world.