In 2009, the Punjab government set-up the Punjab Board of Revenue and Trade (PBIT). The Musharraf era had just ended, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was in power in Punjab and the hot concept on the block was public private partnership (PPP).
Public private partnership still is a hot concept. It is one of those ideals that everyone is agreed upon but nobody does anything about. But the PBIT over more than the decade that it has been operational has been an interesting experiment.
The PBIT’s mission statement job is essentially to attract new investments in the province and strengthen the existing ones by promoting local investment opportunities, making paths easier for businesses and highlighting the distinct advantages of Punjab as a business location. The PBIT is a functioning part of the Punjab government, but what makes it unique is that it is also an advisory organization that advises private companies and investors rather than the government.
While it is part of their job to promote investment in government enterprise, but also to realistically advise potential investors, because the PBIT’s job can only be done on a basis of trust. The investors must trust them to be their advocates and contact in the Punjab government.
The concept is particularly interesting because it is the first provincial venture of its kind. The PIBT was set up as part of the international promotion agency (IPA). The only other such board was the national level Board of Investment (BOI) which had been established under the IPA way back in October 1992. Since the PITB being formed in 2009, KPK has opened its own investment board but one that has seen little action of public attention. The one in Punjab, however, has been active.
But being active and sending out press releases is one thing, and success and utility is another. In recent times, the PITB has been trying to revamp, and the man leading it is their chairman, Jahanzeb Burana. Profit sat down with him to discuss the PITB’s journey, its current mode of operation, and its future plans.
The board’s role
“At PBIT, we strive to ensure that this transformation is sustainable and impactful and we have a strong in house mechanism for that” Burana tells us. The statement could have come straight out of a catalogue. His words are not devoid of substance, but they are covered in a careful veneer of bureaucracy.
“The PBIT is committed to enhancing the global competitiveness of Punjab and its businesses and we have created a mandate for that” he continues. Burana has come to the PBIT after an illustrious career. With an undergrad degree in economics from LUMS, he went on to the Harvard Business School for his MBA.
His hi-fi education under his belt, he went on to start his investing career in San Francisco, working for a social-impact venture investment fund. He later joined a Zurich-based private equity fund in their Singapore office, investing in SMEs in Asia.
Right before joining PBIT, Burana was part of the direct investment team at the Islamic Development Bank, a multilateral financial institution headquartered in Jeddah. Currently, he also serves on the Punjab government’s boards for Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the Punjab Industrial Estate Development and Management Company and a few other public sector entities.
But while stock answers from a man so prolific on paper are always frustrating, which is why it was a relief to see that he did have some thoughts, and more importantly knew how the place he was in charge of was running.
“Punjab has never portrayed itself as an investment destination” he tells us. It is the image of Punjab as agrarian that he wants to break and make room for it to be an industrial hotspot. “Now we are really making a push to try and bring investors into Punjab. We have other roles as well, such as assisting businesses and entrepreneurs which intend to invest in the manufacturing and services sectors of Punjab. But the main idea is to foster an environment proactively through Special Economic Zones (SEZs).”
To hear him speak of it, the PBIT intends to become a very strong catalyst for the reaction Punjab needs to foster industry and investment. The PIBT’s full list of services includes providing information regarding the opportunities for investments, as well as facilitating companies which are looking for joint venture partners. On a bigger picture level, the PBIT is also Punjab’s marketing team for investment, and are responsible for making a case for the province and promoting it worldwide as one of the better investment locations in Asia.
SEZs and Investment facilitation
If public-private partnership was a hot concept, SEZs are boiling. They are all anyone can talk about in regards to CPEC and the PBIT wants to have their own in Punjab. As they SEZ authority in Punjab, they are responsible for evaluating the applications or proposals from developers to affirm their Industrial Parks as SEZs.
For a one time import duty exemption on machinery, equipment, spare parts, consumables in Special Economic Zones, PBIT is responsible to issue a confirmation letter on the status of the applicant prior to seeking the permission from the relevant department/agencies to claim for the exemption.
“Investors are always invigorated to converse their project interests with PBIT officers” Burana explains. “They can also obtain information on major public and private projects, prevailing sectoral policy framework, existing incentive regime, financing options, trade statistics etc. from PBIT.”
Once again, the role of the PBIT more than anything else seems to be one in which they act as facilitators for investment. So while they may in fact be a government constituted and paid board, they only get any action when they have a reputation to be good advisors, to have the government’s ear, and to cut a good deal with the government on behalf of the investors rather than the other way around.
“Our mandate is to get investments” Burana says. “Any investor with an interest in investing needs a smooth flow of work and we aim to provide that. Punjab is also the piece where most of the investment is coming and presently we have roughly $ 3.2 billion investment in pipeline and some projects are on ground.”
This $3.2 billion investment currently coursing through the Punjab is somehow not particularly well known, but extensive. The investment includes ceramics, tiles, commercial trucks, glass manufacturing, and a variety of other businesses.
“We facilitated two investments, one was the tyres of trucks and the other garments. The garment investment will hopefully be inaugurated in April by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and this company makes sports apparel for PUMA, ADIDAS etc” Burana tells us.
“The turnover of this company is 200million US$ and it is a Shanghai based company that is setting up its garment units on Multan Road, Lahore. We are also facilitating them in acquiring a larger piece of land for a private special economic zone because they want to do the whole thing on their own.”
But as Burana himself admits, while $3.2 billion is no loose change investment, it still does not spell the big bucks that Punjab and the country needs. “It is a big amount but, compared to the central GDP it is very little. There is also the problem that these $3.2 billion will not materialize in a day or in a year, but will be used over a period of time.”
“There is a challenge for Pakistan because if we see that FDI as a percentage of GDP which is a ratio monitored internationally has never been more than 1 or 1.2 % and this is the average in the last 40 years. The highest was 3% in 2006 – 2007 due to different reasons but the main pattern is 1 to 1.2 % pattern remained consistent” he explains.
“Healthy countries with healthy economies have FDI to GDP ratio of 4 to 5%. Our FDI has always been 2 – 2.5 billion dollars annually as per state bank figures. The investments in Pakistan are almost 15% which is one of the lowest in the world and also in South Asia because Bangladesh has 30%. Our domestic investment is very low compared to GDP. These things cannot be fixed in one day and it will surely take some time.”
Why the middle man?
The PBIT thus seems to play the role of a strange middle man caught somewhere trying to do well by everyone. It is the Punjab government they represent but the investors that they must look after. But as their Chairman claims, the board actually plays a significant role in the investment cycle.
“Investments have their own life cycle. From looking at the market and then putting in investment is a complete cycle for an investor” he explains.
So when investors come to the board, some are coming in just to get an initial feel of the market. Other more serious investors are coming in when they have a feel but have some issues like NOC, Environment Department matter. That is where the board steps in and facilitates the investor.
“There are many investments in the pipelines and their issues are resolved on priority basis. As soon as their issues are resolved they start up the company.”
The role of the PBIT thus becomes two pronged, with the first part being advice and the second being the focal point through which investors can get through to and be heard by the Punjab government.
“One of our mandates is Investment Advisory which none of the other IPAs are doing so far but PBIT is the first one to do this. When an investor comes in, he asks for tangible investment information” says Burana. “There are two types of investors who have the idea of the market and they know how and where to invest, the other type of investors are those who have no idea about the market and they come here to get a feel of the market and understand the environment. Then we guide them where to invest.”
This is where the board is set apart from a PR or marketing agency, because they do not have specific projects or products to sell. Their job is to find the correct investment for an investor somewhere in Punjab, and it is Punjab’s job to provide said investment.
“The PBIT never has specific projects to market and it was only pitching in the government’s projects. Even the government does not have a ready-made pipeline where the private sector can come in for Public Private Partnership Projects (PPP)” says their Chairman.
“So we made our focus on three types of investments: G2G, G2B and B2B. We are not a sponsoring or execution department and we have only the developing budgets available with us. So in this case we cannot ask the government all the time for giving us the funds that’s why we set up this investment advisory function. And now in house we identify the private sectors investment opportunities and create feasibilities for them and help them through advisory roles in setting up their business and investing in the market.”
On the functional side of things, the PBIT used in house capacity to do all the budgeting on its own. Similarly, the board is working on preparing feasibility and financial modeling of healthcare projects in South Punjab, which is a Rs 7 billion.
“So we are bringing in the local investors for this project. Now if the marketing for this kind of project was being done through any company, it would charge a handsome amount from the government” Burana tells us. “We have very concrete conversations with the investors because we have worked really hard on developing the feasibility and financial plans for the investors. We provide the investor with realistic opportunities and do not give them any unrealistic ideas.”
It is these strategic investments that the PBIT is also trying to focus on these days. Strategic initiatives are those initiatives which bring systemic improvement in investments because the overall investment environment needs natural improvements.
“Since British left these government regulations were not revised so there is a need for massive reform in these regulations. It is the regulations that can change the profile of investments destination, the more we will be pro-business the more will be the business” says Burana. “The lead time period between the coming of investor and investing is defined by the regulations if they are pro-business.”
He gave the example of when the board had proposed that they could lead the project of reforming the regulations, and in March 2019, the Prime Minister of Pakistan adopted and initiated the project of PRMI Pakistan Regulations Modernization initiative under the Chairmanship of Razzaq Dawood and Ishrat Hussain.
“Now this has become a federal level thing and we are grateful that our initiative has been taken up by the government and now the World Bank is also involved in the process. It is not an easy thing but it will be done with the passage of time because it requires a re-think of the entire regulation regime. The team will be coming to Punjab so that a cabinet committee level is there in Punjab to oversee this project.”
What investments is the PBIT raking in?
Another project under the umbrella of the board’s strategic initiatives is the reformation of technology companies. It is a big ask, and Pakistan’s technology companies in Punjab and elsewhere have not been at an acceptable level. While they still lag behind, the PBIT claims their efforts over the past four years have a lot to do with this.
“There is increased awareness, and some role in this was played by the companies like Zameen.com, Pak Wheels, OLX etc. This sector now has Air Lift, Car First etc, and this is a sector which is excelling and has a lot of employment potential and has vibrancy” says Burana.
“We have regulations made since 1947 in which the IT sector does not fit in. Similarly, we have no regulations for the Careem and UBER Service to fit in. So to facilitate these sectors the regulations need to be modernized and should be reformed so that these commodities can be adjusted.”
“We have spent one year with all the relevant stakeholders like the government sector, IT companies and these companies like Uber and Careem for making amendments in these regulations and reforms.”
But where they are regulating and advising investments like technology, they are still involved in more traditional spheres. One of the reforms they are suggesting in the strategic initiatives is that of the Garments Economic Corridor Project for FWO. “The idea is that along with the cities these economic zones can be developed. These are not our mandate but these initiatives are very important to uplift the economic environment.”
“Green Field projects are also coming to Pakistan, and the government has given tax holiday incentives to them for 5 years. Due to certain factors, these projects are slow but I think these will also improve.”
According to Burana, Pakistan faces an issue of perceptions. Punjab is ripe for investment, he says, but foreign investors are hesitant because of the image that the country has.
“Many ambassadors come to us and when they see the infrastructures like roads etc. their perceptions change. There are not many issues in Pakistan which otherwise have become the perception of people living abroad” he says. “We lack narrative building at a national level. We also lack branding of Pakistan at an international level.”