The World Bank Group has recently announced that Pakistan has made its way into the list of top 20 reformer countries in Doing Business. The Doing Business report is a flagship initiative of the World Bank which measures 190 economies globally on more than ten doing business indicators. The report measures the performances of the countries on the basis of the reforms implemented to facilitate businesses.

The complete report shall be published in the third week of October, 2019 wherein; countries would be ranked as per their performances on the doing business front. Pakistan has improved in six areas measured by Doing Business report including starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, paying taxes and trading across borders.

These areas fully or partially come under the provincial domain and the reforms under these areas are collective efforts of the relevant agencies both at the federal and provincial level. As a result of these combined efforts, Pakistan is set to improve its image globally by sending a strong message across to the business community both at local and international level.

At the provincial level, in the last one year, the Government of Punjab has made concerted efforts by bringing all relevant departments together and implementing reforms which were designed under the Ease of Doing Business Reforms Agenda. This reforms agenda is personally driven by the Chief Secretary, Punjab through a Provincial Working Group with well defined Terms of References and has a firm commitment at the top political level as well.

Under this reforms agenda, starting a business has been made easier by merging the federal and provincial business registration portal therefore streamlining procedures through the online one-stop shop which discourages physical visits and interaction with the relevant departments.

Additionally, there have been significant improvements in property registration as majority of land plots in Lahore are fully digitized and time and procedures to register property have been reduced substantially. Furthermore, the process of obtaining a construction permit became easier after the Lahore Development Authority streamlined approval workflows and improved the operational efficiency of their one-stop shop.

One of the remarkable initiatives under this indicator is the automation of the building permits issuance processes which shall be strengthened further in the coming days. Under getting electricity indicator, an online portal for new commercial connections has been launched.

Furthermore, effort has been made to reduce the power outages and the same has been acknowledged by the private sector. On October 04th, 2019, the Punjab Government has launched ‘ePay Punjab’, a mobile application for Business to Government (B2G) and Public to Government (P2G) payments to facilitate the public and improve the government revenue collection through easy payment collection. In its first phase, 12 different taxes of the Excise & Taxation, Board of Revenue, Punjab Revenue Authority, Punjab Land Records Authority and Industries Department can be paid through this application.

These taxes mainly include token tax, Motor Vehicle Registration, Transfer of Motor Vehicle, Property Tax, Professional Tax, e-Stamping, Mutation fee, Sales Tax on Services, and Business Registration fee etc. According to the Doing Business Strategy developed by World Bank Group, global data collected in Doing Business demonstrates that countries with excessively burdensome tax administration promotes tax evasion and informality and results in low levels of revenue collection.

This initiative will not only facilitate businesses and public but also assist the Government improve its revenue collection. The Government of the Punjab is adamant on continuous implementation of transparent, inclusive and effective policies and regulatory practices using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) solutions to facilitate businesses.

As a part of government’s ongoing focus on facilitating private sector, the intent is to review prevalent business regulations in order to rationalize, modernize and automate the same and eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements.

The Government is committed to improving the business environment of the province by progressing towards better regulations and adopting best practices. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement as new laws and regulations might be required to be put in place to ensure effective implementation of these reforms.

Secondly, encouraging the usage of online systems among the public and increasing integration of government systems would also be required.

The government also needs to be cognizant about the significance of reaching out to the private sector and propagate the various reform initiatives that have been taken to facilitate the businesses as the reforms and initiatives are meaningless if they are not recognized by the private sector.

Last but not the least, constant monitoring of the implementation of these reforms would need to be continued to ensure that the momentum built over the last one year is not lost by the concerned agencies.

(The author is working as Head of Program Implementation Unit of P&D Board Punjab which also serves as Ease of Doing Business Secretariat, Punjab)