Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has approved the setting up of a company to run administrative affairs of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) in a move aimed at cutting through the red tape to hire skilled manpower for putting the civil-military run council’s work on fast track.

The prime minister gave the go-ahead to incorporate the Special Purpose Company (SPC) while chairing the third apex committee meeting of the SIFC, according to government sources. The meeting was held early this week and was also attended by Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir.

Responding to a question by The Express Tribune, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Saturday that the company was being established in line with similar nature companies that were set up in Punjab during his tenure as the chief minister of the province.

The SIFC approved the establishment of the company with the objective of hiring financial, legal and marketing professionals, according to the officials. They said that the company would engage technical advisers wherever required to expedite work in areas of agriculture, mining, information technology, defence production and energy.

The government established the SIFC secretariat a few weeks ago and the Ministry of Finance had sanctioned a Rs200 million budget against a demand of Rs400 million. At present, the secretariat houses relatively few people and is mostly aided by the army to run administrative affairs.

Giving reasons for the need to establish the new company, the government officials said that the process of setting up a project management to hire people through proper channel would have taken more time and could delay the hiring of the staff.

The new company will be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and it will have a board, having representatives of the army, civil government and private sector, according to the officials.

The SPC would frame its human resource, procurement and financial procedures to ensure a highly enabled organisation and it would directly report to the SIFC secretariat, according to the decision.

Former finance minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday said the SIFC would work as a one-window forum to bring foreign investment in the country and added the Special Purpose Company will be its administrative arm.

Dar further said that the newly-approved company would not act as a transaction arm of the SIFC and the investment projects will be executed under the Ministry of Finance-run Pakistan Sovereign Investment Fund.

However, the sources said that the prime minister was of the view that the foreign investors could not be restricted to bring their investment only through the newly-established sovereign wealth fund.

The SIFC has approved a list of 28 projects that will be offered to Gulf countries and two of them – an oil refinery and the Reko Diq mining project – have already been negotiated with Saudi Arabia.

A day earlier, The Express Tribune reported that the SIFC had approved hiring of consultants to reduce shareholdings of Pakistan and Canada’s Barrick Gold equally in favour of Saudi Arabia in the Reko Diq gold and copper mine project.

According to the decision, the reduction of shareholdings should be done in a manner that the shares of Pakistan and Barrick Gold are reduced equally. Barrick Gold owns a 50 per cent stake in the Reko Diq mine, with the remaining 50 per cent owned by the governments of Pakistan and Balochistan.

According to a post by a senior executive of Saudi Arabia Holding Company, the Kingdom was in talks to acquire a stake in a massive copper mine in Pakistan for $7 billion.

The post further read that as part of the economic cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia was engaged in discussions to acquire a stake in a giant copper mine in Pakistan for $7 billion. The “Roshan” mine is the largest copper mine in Pakistan, located in the Balochistan region in the western part of the country. The mine is estimated to hold reserves of 2.3 billion tons of copper and is expected to commence production in 2024 it added.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday hoped that he had full faith in the success of SIFC in attracting foreign investment. Answering media questions, the PM defended the military’s role in the economic sphere and said that the SIFC would be headed by the PM, not by the Chief of the Army Staff. The premier said that the army chief was just a member of the SIFC.

“If we are on the same page without trespassing each other’s domain then what is wrong with it”, said Sharif while responding to a question about giving the military a legal role through amendments in the Army Act, the Board of Investment Act and the SIFC.

The PM also decided this week that to promote the work of the SIFC, the Ministry of Information and Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) would jointly work under the SIFC banner.

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