Frustrated lot: As elections approach, Punjab’s industrialists hope for change

A “business friendly” government is expected to solve the energy crisis.

Shahram Haq January 06, 2013
“We understand that the political agenda for every political party can be different, but their economic agenda should be the same and equal for all provinces,” says Iftikhar. PHOTO: CREATIVE COMMONS


While the industrial and commercial elite of Punjab may be divided in terms of their personal political preferences, they are united about one thing: they hope that a right-leaning, “business-friendly” government takes the reins of power in Islamabad in the summer.

Businessmen who spoke to The Express Tribune about their expectations and hopes for the upcoming elections were careful not to identify themselves with any specific political party, lest they be targeted for their loyalties should their favoured party lose. Still, they offered broadly similar ideas of what they expected a new government to be like – and the vision they offered appeared to be in stark contrast to the economic agenda of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.

The most fervent hope among industrialists in Punjab is for a resolution of the energy crisis. Most businessmen in Punjab blame Sindh for not allowing the larger province to have what they feel is its rightful share of natural gas. That lack of adequate natural gas supplies is, in turn, also blamed for the massive power outages in the province.

There appears to be widespread resentment against the 18th amendment to the constitution – which granted more autonomy to the provinces – as well as the 7th National  Finance Commission award, which gave provinces the lion’s share of federal tax revenues.

“Punjab is paying the penalty for the 18th Amendment with half of our industry lying idle,” said Farooq Iftikhar, president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, though he did not cite statistics to back up his claim.

“The low rate of job creation can only be overcome by providing equal distribution of resources to all provinces, so they can manage business activities accordingly,” concurred Wisal Ahmad Monnoo, of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, a lobbying group.

The 18th Amendment was the signature achievement of the PPP-led government, and was passed with near-unanimous consent in both houses of Parliament in 2010.

The resentment against the PPP has led some analysts to state openly that they expect the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), a right-leaning, business-friendly, Punjab-centric party, to win the upcoming election.

“We believe the next election will yet again bring a hung parliament, with no majority lying with any single party. However, the ground realities suggest that the PML–N, with some support from religious, ethnic parties and independents may have an edge,” said BMA Capital, an investment bank, in a research note issued to clients on Friday.

Yet despite the desire for a different government in Islamabad, some businessmen feel that a more realistic approach might be the Charter of the Economy, an idea floated by former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin that called for all political parties to agree on a single economic agenda for the country, to be pursued regardless of which party is in power.

“We understand that the political agenda for every political party can be different, but their economic agenda should be the same and equal for all provinces,” said Iftikhar.

Others call for the incoming government to have the political courage to pursue tough, but necessary economic reforms. “We want the next government to be brave enough to settle the [energy] crisis and pursue reasonable economic policies,” said SM Tanveer, chairman of Sunder Industrial Estates, a venture by the Punjab government to provide adequate infrastructure to manufacturing companies.

Some industrialists were of the view that Punjab has been so badly discriminated against in the energy sector that it is struggling to compete with other provinces, let alone companies in other countries like China and India. “If we observe the same behaviour in the coming years, then no one would be able to stop the chaos, as people are already sick of what is happening here in Punjab,” Tanveer added.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2013.

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imran | 9 years ago | Reply

it has to happen because as usual federal gov. is under ppp and they have always discriminated against punjab wheras when pmln used to be in power then sindh was discriminated.. anyways we should unite and compensate each other with their resources and if they dont accept this then we should ban the export of our agricultural products to sindh and balochistan ... fair enough

roadkashehzada | 9 years ago | Reply

not sure why there is no push for a local 900-1000 MW power plant for faisalabad alone. 30% funded by Government (Punjab or Federal) remaining by industrialists and public.

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