Contrary to the policy of the Punjab government of attracting foreign investment, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) has targeted business activities of expatriate Pakistanis in the provincial capital, forcing them to pack up.
The just example of the LDA’s ‘show of power’ was witnessed on Friday when a team of LDA headed by a junior officer, Umm-e-Laila, who is serving at a much higher slot, raided and sealed two restaurants of a European food chain in the Shadman and Gulshan-e-Ravi areas.
Sources in the LDA revealed that Umm-e-Laila, a BPS-17 officer of the Punjab Local Government Department, was posted Director of the Town Planning, which is a BPS-19 slot. Before this posting, she was Assistant Director in the same wing of the authority and her posting against this senior slot had upset many LDA officers awaiting posting.
Friday’s action of the LDA clearly showed the bias of its officials towards an expatriate Pakistani who had invested his hard-earned money for sheer love for his homeland. An LDA spokesman claimed that commercial activities were banned on both the roads where the restaurants of the European food chain had been sealed. It is pertinent to mention that the LDA team headed by Umm-e-Laila did not seal any other business or property on these roads despite the authority’s claim that commercial activities were banned on them. Locals as well as customers of the sealed restaurants had expressed reservations about the LDA action and asked it was fair about shutting down illegal commercial activities in the city, particularly on these two roads, why did it target the European chain only. A large number of medical stores, food outlets, guest houses and a hotel were openly doing their business in the Shadman area in front of the Fatima Memorial Hospital and the LDA’s efficient team did not bother to even tell any of them that their business was illegal on this portion of the road.
Similar is the case with Gulshan-e-Ravi where the entire road had lines of restaurants, marriage halls, filling stations, general stores, bakeries, food outlets etc. But the LDA officials only targeted the outlet of the European food chain on this road and no other business outlet was sealed. The Punjab government should establish a designated facilitation center for expatriate investors to save them from hardships in establishing their business and give them a feeling of security, said Shahid Butt, owner of the restaurant and a German national.
He said he had repeatedly asked the LDA to take commercial fee from him and had also approached the highest forum in the Punjab (Chief Minister) for the same but in vain. Earlier, he said he was called by the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team who heard his point of view and assured him of an amicable solution. “Friday’s action of the LDA showed that its officials are targeting me intentionally because I went to the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team and told them of corrupt practices and illegal demands of certain LDA officials,” he said. He appealed to the Punjab Chief Minister to intervene immediately otherwise he would pack up and leave the country.
“I came back to Pakistan from Germany against the will of my family and friends who told me that I would face a lot of hardships and problems there. I ignored their advice and came to Pakistan with a hope that the system might have changed, he said, adding he was proved wrong.
Shahid Butt, who had been president of association of Asian businessmen in Germany for 11 years, said once he was gone, no Pakistani businessman living in Germany would dare to invest here.
The only reason I came to Pakistan is the thought that my country needs me and this is the time I should go there, invest and serve the nation, he said, adding all the claims of the present government regarding accommodating investors had so far proved wrong.
“I am facing corrupt officials and hardships on a daily basis and there is not a single forum where I can lodge my complaint, he said, adding he had planned to establish over 10 huge fast food restaurants of a European food chain only in Lahore but after establishing two he had stopped making further investment.
He said he had recently got an investment offer from Bosnia in which his business would be tax free for a couple of years while the government would also provide with a facility of official guides 24 hours a day to solve departmental requirements and formalities.
“Why the Punjab government is not thinking on same lines,” he said, suggesting the government to establish a designated facilitation center for foreign investors where they should be properly guided and informed about nitty-gritty of business opportunities and requirements.
On the other hand, the LDA spokesman while commenting on the issue said that Friday’s action of the LDA was not against the business activity but was against the property. He said both the sealed buildings were constructed in violation of building maps and at the time of construction the owners of these premises had given undertakings to the LDA that these buildings would not be used for commercial activities. He said later these buildings were sold or rented out to the European Chain. He said the LDA had nothing personal against the investor or owner of the restaurant.