A day after Parliament adopted 33 bills including the one envisaging right of vote for Overseas Pakistanis, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a ‘Digital Power of Attorney’ portal to allow the Overseas Pakistanis to apply for PoA from the comfort of their homes.
Speaking on the occasion, he described Overseas Pakistanis as the ‘biggest asset’ of the country, adding Pakistan would not need to go to the IMF again and again or seek loans from other sources if this asset was tapped in an appropriate manner.
National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), which is instrumental in offering digital solution to various problems facing different segments of the society, deserves credit for achieving another milestone in facilitating Overseas Pakistanis.
According to estimates, about seventy-five thousand people visit Pakistan Missions abroad every year in connection with the issuance of power of attorney but now this innovative web-based solution by NADRA would utilizes online biometrics verification and video interview to verify applicants remotely for PoA issuance, saving precious time and money of the visitors.
Presently, a pilot project has been initiated in 10 cities of the United States and the United Kingdom for issuance of PoAs and it is encouraging that the Authority is committed to introducing it globally in just ten weeks, benefiting Overseas Pakistanis in each and every corner of the globe.
The Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that true facilitation of Overseas Pakistanis can help take care of economic and financial challenges of the country.
This is evident from the fact that remittances by Overseas Pakistanis grew from around $18 billion a few years back to a record $29.4 billion during last year and there are projections these would reach $32 billion during the current financial year.
The fast growth stimulated by the proactive policy measures by the government and the State Bank of Pakistan to incentivize the use of formal channels helped the country bridge the external account gap during the tough year of Covid.
No doubt, the Overseas Pakistanis are playing their part to help meet foreign exchange requirements of the country but there are reasons to believe that we are not utilizing this precious resource to help the country stand on its own feet.
At the same time, no doubt, the Government is actively working to mitigate problems facing Overseas Pakistanis vis-à-vis our Missions abroad but back home, no worthwhile policies have been formulated to encourage them to invest their hard earned money on profitable ventures or help them resolve their problems like quality housing and education for their children.
We have Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) but its role and working has not been exploited to the fullest possible extent.
It may also be pointed out that apart from the attractive schemes launched by the government, there were also one-off factors behind meteoric rise in home remittances by Overseas Pakistanis.
With this in view, prudence demands we chalk out an aggressive strategy for export of manpower especially skilled and qualified (people who can earn higher per-person incomes) if we are really sincere in enhancing the remittances meaningfully. Like promotion of trade, our Missions abroad should be given targets for manpower export.
The Government recently created the Economic Diplomacy Department in the National Security Division, which is basically assigned with the responsibility of making efforts and carrying out coordination for increasing exports but this can also be assigned the task of increasing manpower export.
Experts also argue that stricter scrutiny by the SBP and the FIA of foreign exchange companies has so far helped a great deal in squeezing room for the Pakistani Diaspora for sending foreign exchange via illegal channels of hundi/havala.
They say the two state institutions must not lower their guard and continue to make transactions of these companies as transparent and compliant to regulations as possible.
The successive governments launched schemes for skill development but despite all that we have not been able to produce the required manpower for the targeted markets.
This programme also needs to be reviewed and updated with focus on those professions that are in great demand in foreign markets.
The Prime Minister took serious notice of the lacklustre performance of our missions abroad, especially those where Pakistanis are in great numbers, which would help improve their plight but the situation is still far from satisfactory.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must focus constantly on this issue and action should be initiated against Missions that fail to safeguard interests of Pakistanis in the host countries.