Remittances sent home by overseas workers – about $13.9 billion this year – have contributed in a big way in warding off the ignominy of default. The amount is second only to the country’s earnings from commodity exports. It can be increased manifold, if only we could provide world-class training facilities to the workforce.
Those developing countries which attach due importance to this aspect have been successful in capturing a major chunk of available opportunities whereas Pakistan has suffered because the skill training aspects have been ignored.
The labour attaches (community welfare attaches) posted abroad, whose duty is to provide maximum number of jobs for Pakistani nationals in host countries, are most often totally ignorant of the demand of their assignment with absolutely no background in the area of labour migration. Most often they are either relatives of influential people or friends of friends of these people.
The low birth rate and growing shortage of skilled manpower in low-tech in rich countries have opened the floodgates to manpower inflows to these countries from developing nations groaning under the weight of growing population and expanding youth bulge, like Pakistan.
The new government installed after the May 11 general elections, therefore, needs to act fast in controlling the damage already done and devise a well thought out strategy to grab growing opportunities for manpower export to the rich and developed world with proper planning. This is one sure and quick way of ensuring enhanced flow of remittances, so important for the country in these days of global economic crisis and financially turbulent times.
While percentagewise the flow of remittances to India, the Philippines and Bangladesh has increased 25% to 28%, in the case of Pakistan it has barely touched 17-18%, which shows that all is not well with the existing system and planning.
Wholesale corruption, favouritism and nepotism along with destruction of institutions and misuse of funds witnessed during the last so many years are unprecedented. Total liabilities of the government – both internal and external, which were $6.2 billion in 2008 – now stand at over $13 billion. The tax-to GDP ratio has now come down to 8.9%.
Lavish and uncontrolled spending of taxpayer’s money has been the hallmark of successive governments. New ministries were created and old ones were bifurcated for the sole purpose of accommodating coalition partners, which has not only resulted in wasteful expenditure, but has thrown the entire government machinery and bureaucracy in total disarray.
While the Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis was divided into three separate ministries, each headed by a secretary or minister, the attached departments working under these ministries were put in dual control.
A perfect example of mismanagement is the department responsible for export of manpower – the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment – which is the regulatory authority under the Emigration Ordinance 1979, headed by the director general, under the Ministry of Human Resources. While the officers working as protectors of emigrants under Section 5 (Chapter 2) of this ordinance work under the director general, Bureau of Emigration, the labour attaches (community welfare attaches) are appointed under Section 7 (Chapter 2) of the same ordinance, but work under the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation.
While under the rules the community welfare attaches are required to submit periodical reports to the head of the regulating authority, in reality they seldom do it.
This practice is not only against the ordinance and the rules but results in lax and dual control over the attaches with the result that they become less performance-oriented. The present unworkable, administratively confusing and illegal arrangement of three ministries – one for labour, one for manpower (human resources) and one for overseas Pakistanis, should be immediately done away with.
The first and foremost priority of the new government should be to do away with such bifurcations, particularly in case of ministries of human resources and overseas Pakistanis. Both may be merged into a single ministry and renamed Ministry of Manpower Export and Overseas Pakistanis. It should be headed by a competent, knowledgeable, experienced and upright person with impeccable integrity and one who has the background of this important subject.
This very important department is instrumental in reducing unemployment and thus lowering poverty level and at the same time helps to generate and enhance remittances from overseas workers.
The writer is a former director (emigration) & protector of emigrants, and consultant International Labor Organization & International Organization for Migration
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.
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