The World Economic Forum lists a weakening judiciary as one of the issues holding back economic reform in Pakistan. (Photo: Pakistan Today)
In Pakistan, the process of economic reforms has been painfully slow – a fact underlined by stalled or slipping progress on several international indices. On the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business, Pakistan fell from 107th out of 185 countries to 128th. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index brought Pakistan down to 129th in 2014-15 from 124th in 2012-13. And the Fraser’s Institute report kept Pakistan at 124th out of 167 countries — the same spot it earned in 2013.
The World Economic Forum published its Global Competitiveness report this week, showing similarly weak progress. Three large South Asia Countries were ranked – India at 55th, Bangladesh at 107th and Pakistan at 126th. As compared to the last report, India jumped 16 places, Bangladesh by 5 and Pakistan slipped by one.
Over the last 28 years, Selima Ahmad, the founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), has worked exclusively on women’s economic and social empowerment – both in her country and worldwide.
As the first woman’s chamber of commerce in Bangladesh, BWCCI has become a strong voice to support women’s economic participation, calling fora gender-smart approach to private sector development. That approach focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as engines for job creation and growth, and in particular seeks to tackle a range of issues facing women-owned SMEs in particular. For instance, less than five percent of loans for SMEs go to women-owned businesses around the world and the global credit gap for women-owned SMEs is estimated at roughly $320 billion.
Rita Bhandary is a woman in business who means business. She is the current President of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association in Nepal (FWEAN) and a successful entrepreneur in her own right. Rita began humbly, learning as she went to seize opportunities to launch her business and a career, and, eventually, to share her success with other women across the country. Her story starts not with the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs in Nepal, but in the home, like many women in South Asia.
As she noted at CIPE’s panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, entrepreneurial success for the women of Nepal is just like the recipe for success worldwide: take opportunities when they present themselves. Bhandary’s experience also shows the importance of sufficient human, physical and financial capital for women to succeed in business.
Shamama Arbab, Vice President of the Peshawar Women’s Chamber of Commerce (PWCCI) in Pakistan, is both a director of her own business and a tireless advocate for economic inclusion for women in Pakistan. Peshawar is a city where it is often difficult for women to even leave the home alone, so launching and growing a business can seem like a journey too dangerous to consider. Yet given her own success, she strives to provide similar opportunities to other women. She is focused on fostering women’s economic, social and political inclusion, addressing inequality, building an ecosystem in which women entrepreneurs are empowered, and where women can contribute to the country.
Across South Asia, there are women like Arbab who are both inspirational and transformational. They are changing their countries from the inside out by changing the role that women play as citizens. With this blog series, “Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy,” based on a panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, CIPE is highlighting the work of several such women leaders of chambers of commerce and business associations in the region. Having broken through various glass ceilings themselves, these women are now sharing their success by building institutions and mechanisms to support women across the economy, from all walks of life.
Corruption in Pakistan is not a new issue, but as of late it has had a detrimental effect on the country’s economic fortunes and its ability to attract foreign investment. A 2014 report by Transparency International Pakistan found over Rs. 8.5 trillion ($94 billion) was wasted due to corruption and bad governance from 2009-2013, during the previous administration led by the Pakistan People’s Party. Pakistan currently ranks 126 out of 175 nations in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index, and lags behind neighboring countries in economic development due in part to rampant public sector corruption at both the national and provincial level. According to Fasih Bokhari, former chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, five to seven billion rupees ($51 million to $72 million) are wasted per day due to corruption and overall inefficiency.
Major General Bilal Akbar, Director General of Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, a border security and law enforcement agency, estimated that over Rs. 230 billion ($2.3 billion) is illegally extorted or otherwise collected in Karachi each year. General Akbar also stated that political party members, city and district government officials, and law enforcement personnel are complicit in these illegal activities, and that the money extorted is frequently used to fund terrorist and gang-related criminal activities.
Successive governments in Pakistan have shown profound interest in increasing trade with the rest of the world by pursuing various trade and investment agreements. From a significant Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China signed in 2006 which will soon enter its second phase, to a trade and transit agreement with Afghanistan, as well as several free or preferential trade agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, Pakistan is also negotiating possibilities of trade agreements and cooperation with Turkey, Thailand, and the ASEAN region. The country is also part of the regional trade agreement South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) together with India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and other South Asian countries. Though the agreement is not yet fully operational, it is a source of much discourse and tremendous unrealized potential for all countries involved.
Pakistan’s trade has increased overall, going from $24 billion in 2003 to $72 billion in 2014, and opening Pakistan’s markets may be a positive indicator of some improvements in Pakistan’s economy. From importing primarily oil and fuel products, Pakistan is now also importing machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, and industrial inputs. The industrial sector, particularly large scale manufacturing, witnessed a growth of about five percent in fiscal year 2014.
When it comes to gender diversity, too many boards still look like this in 2015 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Corporate boards have historically been comprised mainly of men. However, a number of countries have begun imposing quotas for the number of women on the boards of publicly traded or state-owned companies — an idea that is now being considered as a European Union-wide rule. This is likely to compel businesses elsewhere in the world, including Pakistan, to consider the gender diversity of their own corporate boards.
According to the International Finance Corporation, just 13 percent of 303 companies surveyed in Pakistan in 2010 had more than one woman director — a sample that included publicly listed companies, large family-owned firms, and private, unlisted companies.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.