To invest in development or not to invest, that is the question for cash-strapped developing countries like Pakistan. A major chunk of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is barely sufficient to fund unavoidable expenditures related to defense, security, debt servicing, pay and pension.

Hardly any substantial amount of funds is left in the kitty to invest even in human resource development (HRD) by introducing better education and healthcare schemes. So, sparing funds for upgrading physical infrastructure like roads, rail and bridges become a distant dream for the governments in power.

Socio-economic and infrastructure development are like a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Logic says that investment in infrastructure development projects by governments would lead to socio-economic development of people, but paucity of funds demands that the order should be reversed. Ultimately, the thinking brains have come up with a win-win solution in Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Almost all successful development schemes in developing countries like ours are being run in PPP mode. International financial institutions (IFIs) like World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB), international development partners like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), USAID, JICA and others, multilateral development institutions like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) come in handy in this regard to some extent.

But rightly said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” meaning thereby that all development fundings from the above-mentioned institutions have strings attached to their so-called generosity. This makes the entire development process skewed in their favor, making it least responsive to the local development needs of a particular country.

Therefore, a sustainable development model should be based on measures to maximize revenues and minimize expenditures.

The most crucial intervention in this regard is putting in place an effective system of tax collection and dispensation of targeted subsidies. Secondly, exports diversification, import substitution and investing in Human Resource Development (HRD) to optimize productivity of the workforce are equally essential. Thirdly, business-friendly policies to ensure ease of doing business and lucrative investment policies are also needed to create area -specific business clusters in Special Economics Zones (SEZs) in different provinces/regions of the country.

And last but not the least, the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem needs to be engineered in a way to facilitate not only the startups but the existing businesses too. All stages of the demand-supply chain like manufacturing, packaging, marketing and delivery need to be made more efficient and cost-effective by using cutting-edge technologies in mechatronics, robotics and artificial intelligence. Fast and better processing tools, quality packaging standards and cost-cutting techniques guarantee success in the modern competitive world where BFC (Better, Faster and Cheaper) is a trick of the trade.

Additionally, plugging pilferage of precious financial resources due to corruption, mismanagement and malpractices is another uphill task for almost all the developing countries alike because it is a major stumbling block in the way of fetching best returns for the limited available financial resources.

Luckily, the federal government is cognizant of all the above-cited structural issues plaguing our economy, and is taking bold though bitter decisions to cure these ills in the long run. The efficacy of reforms in the tax collection system is visible in FBR’s record revenue collection in the current fiscal year so far. An efficient system of administering targeted subsidies to the have nots is successfully being implemented under Ehsaas framework. Kifalat Programme, Emergency Cash Transfers, Conditional Cash Transfers, Soup Kitchens, Shelter Homes and educational stipends are all practical manifestations of social safety nets for the less-privileged segments of society.

Kamyab Jawan Programme (KJP) is the federal government’s flagship programme for human resource development. It caters to youth, which constitutes around 68% of Pakistan’s more than 220 million population. Modeled on 3Es: Education, Employment and Engagement, it focuses on providing youth with all that is needed for living a productive life. Its initiatives like Skills for All Programme, Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES), Sports Drive, Talent Hunt Drive, Innovation League and Youth Centers are designed to help them climb up the socio-economic development ladder.

Moreover, the government is focused on attracting all potential investors, both local and foreign, by introducing a compliance regime instead of  an NOC regime for the startups. Ease of doing business is being ensured by establishing one window facilitation centers at Special Economic Zones (SEZs) at Rashakai (KP), Allama Iqbal (Punjab), Dhabeji (Sindh) and Quetta (Balochistan). Investors are being incentivised through special tax breaks and duty exemptions on the import of plant and machinery for massive industrialisation to increase productivity of the industrial units. It would not only improve the competitiveness of Pakistani products in the international markets but would also earn a lot of foreign exchange reserves.

It is also worth-mentioning that the government has a zero tolerance policy for corruption in the public sector to stop waste of valuable financial resources.

Thus, it can rightly be summed up that major structural reforms in the economy would bear fruits in the years to come if continuity of policies is ensured.

Abdul Rashid Shakir is a freelance writer and can be reached at arshakir.pmo@gmail.com.