It’s a usual practice for Pakistanis living abroad to keep facing complications whenever they have to deal with authorities back home.
Although there are federal institutions meant to redress their problems, however, most of the complaints remain unattended and are tossed into the trash.
For dealing with the situation, the government of Punjab has established a Commission for Overseas Pakistanis (Punjab Chapter). MORE had the honor to meet Mr. Afzaal Bhatti, the Commissioner of Overseas Pakistanis Commission (Punjab). He enthusiastically shared the performance of the department during past one year.
Why was there a need to establish a separate chapter of Overseas Pakistanis Commission for the Punjab?
Actually, For redressing the problems, especially related to overseas Pakistanis of the Punjab province, Chief Minister had set up a task force during his last tenure. The force could not perform as desired. Therefore, keeping in view the previous shortcomings, the CM made a proper legislation and got the act approved by the Punjab Assembly in November 2014. The Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission came into being, and I was given the charge as its first Commissioner on 2nd January 2015.
Since the commission has come to existence, we have received cases that are even 30 to 40 years old. However, we have a platform now —a one-window operation — which is no doubt the flagship initiative.
How many Pakistanis are staying abroad?
According to my information, approximately, ten million overseas Pakistanis are living in different countries. 60% of Overseas Pakistanis live in Saudi Arabia, or you could say the Middle East; and, the rest belong to US, UK, and other countries.
How much remittances they send to Pakistan?
I believe, it’s touching around $ 20 billion a year, but these are the figures coming through the legal channel. I think that there’s much greater amount which comes through undocumented channels as well; and, if taken into account, it will be larger than the twenty billion dollars.
Can you also channelize this massive investment? What are the opportunities for the people who will invest here?
The Punjab government has identified many possibilities in industrial and agricultural sectors. It is a matter of giving them (OP) confidence that their land or any other property will be secured. Once we achieve the trust level, the investment figure will go much higher, and there will be a quick turnaround in the investment.
How much confidence you could provide to OP in the past one year?
We had received three to four thousand complaints in the first year, and I can happily make a statement that we were able to address fifty percent of them.
Which departments have you identified to be the cause of distress for Pakistani living abroad?
Unfortunately, the units which do not have proper systems create more problems for the Overseas Pakistanis. But fortunately, when we act as a liaison between them, the response becomes much quicker.
We have installed a proper IT system; the complaints are registered and sent to them. The departments have to address them in a similar manner. So, There is no more an option for a paper file to vanish. Today, everything is handled by the software and stored in the database.
What kind of challenges do you still face for the smooth working of the Commission?
The biggest problem is about property issues. Dealing with the regulations made for land acquisition and land transfer is one of the largest challenges.
Even, the more significant challenge is dealing with the courts. The delay in the processing of the land issues, and especially the stay orders, are the major hindrances for us in assisting the Overseas Pakistanis.
Haven’t digitization of land records and e-stamp papers resolved most of such issues?
Well, the process of digitizing the land records has been completed in 36 districts of Punjab, but, these all are in rural areas, and still it has to be initiated in urban cities. Secondly, the digitization does not solve the problem of inheritance. 90% of the complaints we come across are related to land issues which are mostly between brothers and sisters. It will take the time to address such matters.
But yes, the digitization has benefited the Pakistanis. Earlier, they had to rush to a Patwari for getting the registration copy. Now it can easily be obtained from land records office.
On average, how long it takes to redress a single complaint?
It solely depends on upon the nature of the issue. There are some cases which were resolved in a single day, and few are pending since one year. Most of them are delayed due to court hearings, and other are related to the inheritance – a more complicated area.
Pakistanis who return, get humiliated, and it starts right from the airport. How can they reach you?
Well, no doubt the overseas Pakistanis have to face a lot of issues when they return home such as renewing the Visa in embassies, the strange behavior of porters on airports, the immigration, customs, the inheritance problems, hence, there are many discomforts for them. We are trying to tackle these issues one by one.
For any distress, we are accessible online where a complaint can be filed from anywhere in the world. Apart from this, Pakistanis can reach us through 24/7 helpline. Even we have our complaint cell at the office of every DCO in all the districts of the Punjab. Those who are in Lahore can visit us at 1 Club Road, CM Secretariat where I will personally listen to them. Pakistanis can file complaints in embassies as well. So, we are pursuing all the avenues.
We realize that Pakistanis face so many problems concerning PIA, therefore, for the issues related to our national airline, we are devising the internship program by signing the MOU with Punjab University so that interns could assist the Overseas Pakistanis at the airports.
Did this commission take any action against the guilty departments or officials?
Whenever we receive such a complaint, we send it to concern districts to check the records that whether the complainant is right or not. And currently, there are 24 cases which we have sent to anti-corruption wing regarding revenue staff and police for penalizing the officials.
What confidence can you give to an Overseas Pakistani, why he/she should come to you?
We do not claim that we shall be able to address each and every complaint, but make a promise that whatever the issue is, we shall try our best to resolve it.