ISLAMABAD: During a preliminary research on the prospects of investment under the China-Pak Economic Corridor accord, I found out that over 150 such zones and estates were created ever since the military regime of Ayub Khan (1958-68).
Less than half of them are operative. Where did hundreds of billions of rupees spent on creating them go? Purchase of lands, Pc-1s, grading of land, leveling, infrastructure and amenities were some of the categories under which the bureaucracy used the taxpayer money for creating these estates.
Most of them, however, were non-starters as the existing ones were inoperative and no survey and research was conducted on the prospects of new ones. For the federal and provincial bureaucracy, this venture was one of the biggest sources of cuts and commissions. The authorities mostly purchased land pieces at higher-than-market rates, offered them to the buyers who eventually sold them out like property pieces when the prices went up. They never set up an industry, in clear violation of the rules that governed these estates—these lands were exclusively for creating industries, and not for commercial sale.
The authorities did not go after the culprits, as they too, were in league with them. The trend of buying and selling of plots eventually began converting the estates into mini townships and places of villas. Billions of rupees are still pending against the original buyers of these industrial plots, but with no serious official follow-up for recovery.
Most of this racket is visible in Punjab, rural Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan region. The idea was to industrialise the backward areas and offer jobs to the unemployed youth that could not take advantage of urbanisation and modern education. These estates were supposed to generate land-sale and industrial-commercial revenues for the government.
Interestingly, most of these estates do not have operative websites to show updated data without which potential investors would not know the progress or decay on these tracts of land.
More interestingly, majority of these estates proved to be a failure 25-30 years ago, but the PC-1s on them are yet to complete. If you look for a tragic industrialisation joke, here is one for you.
This pattern is true of most estates in Sindh, Punjab and K-P. The supervisory of these estates changed hand from one authority of the provincial government to another, and the bureaucracy has mostly been losing track of what has been happening in these billions-guzzling estates.
There is no serious study in Pakistan on the successful international and regional estates and zones to seek performance criteria. No investor ever went to a court of law to complain against the delay in the completion of works on these estates or against the delinquent and corrupt bureaucracy supervising the works.
Over 80% out of about 150 industrial estates do not have websites indicating the updates, and those who run such websites, offer an obsolete data—even the phone numbers of supervising authorities are wrong, or there is little response when you dial them. This data does not indicate the PC-1 completion dates, the number of industries set up, the number of sick units, the nature of industries and the total taxpayer money so far spent on these estates, while most websites do not even carry the governing rules for the estates.
Ironically, most of the activity on these estates is done by the property dealers. Go to any site of these estates, and you find property dealers selling plots more active than then relevant authorities and the investors. This situation indicates that the lions and cheetahs do not have the hunt; the hyena and scavengers are the busiest on the rot of economic body of Pakistan.
Read the provincial annual budgets and you seldom find enthusiasm for upgrading these estates with better allocation and monitoring instruments. Most of the international websites on industrial zones and estates indicate how the works and activities are monitored to attract investors with well-performed supervisory.
You seldom find media reports on the mistreatment of taxpayer money in the Pakistani zones and estates. Newspaper reports on these estates only cover the official handouts on meetings, decisions and progress reports which, if analysed, are only lids on how the bureaucracy and the property agents gang up to unleash plunder.
Reporters and columnists are yet to understand the importance of these zones and estates in the industrial progress of Pakistan. They take little account of the fact that the proponents and maintainers of these estates contributed to deepening the trend of corruption at the cost of the country’s future.
No other source offers able-bodied people jobs that can sustain. Industrialisation is the most serious undertaking in the modern times. In Pakistan, the biggest fraud has been committed in the name of industrial estates.
The writer has worked with major newspapers and specialises in analysis of public finance and geo-economics of terrorism
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2015.
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