The government has decided to cancel the license of industrial landholders at the Port Qasim Industrial Zone. These are not just a few licenses but 500 vacant industrial landholders will lose land allotted to them. 300 plot licenses have already been taken away by the Supreme Court.

There are other problems as well. Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Kamran Michael has said that about 350 employees from Karachi Port and Port Qasim have been removed for illegal appointment and having fake degrees. The ministry is also introducing biometric attendance to check ghost employees in the ports.

These plots were allotted for the purposes of setting up industries in aims to create clusters of activity in the industrial zone. Infrastructure and facilities were to be made available at the zone to bring in economic prosperity. Unfortunately, the applicants have acted like real estate agents rather than entrepreneurs, probably hoping to re-sell the land at a profit later on. The vacant plots defeat the purpose of setting up an industrial zone.

The government has been unnecessarily gracious to the business community, and incentives range from tax break to land allotted at cheap rates. Often, benefits accrue to cronies rather than serious businessmen. The authority should have taken care at the time of the application to filter genuine buyers from real estate arbitrageurs. In many countries around the world, relevant government authorities have defined procedures and checks where it becomes difficult for non-genuine applicants to get a piece of industrial land. Proper documentation such as business plans, feasibility studies, bank documentation, vendor quotes, etc. are provided as part of the application to get a piece of land in an industrial zone. These can be easily faked in Pakistan due to the lack of monitoring on the part of government authorities that are often complicit.

It is shameful that people would exploit these benefits and squander them. Rather than making efforts to benefit from the industrial zone, many have resorted to grabbing land and made up business to continue to receive state benefits. The Nawaz Sharif government has proposed 29 industrial parks and 21 mineral economic processing zones in all four provinces under the much hyped $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It remains to be seen if the CPEC will become fodder for more exploitation, or if actual development will be seen.