Govt mulls initiative to shield expats from fraud

By Khaleeq Kiani
Published in Dawn on March 11, 2024

• Initiative to digitise property transactions aims to attract investment, remittances
• Includes digital land records, video-based transaction services

ISLAMABAD: The federal government plans to unveil a digital initiative to help overseas Pakistanis with property-related transactions in an attempt to attract investments and encourage remittances from the diaspora.

The initiative will provide digitised land records, mutation certificates, and electronic registration for property sales, purchases, and transfers, all accessible through video facilities at Pakistani diplomatic missions worldwide.

The service would be part of a package for overseas Pakistanis that also includes investment opportunities, real estate projects, and taxation and baggage incentives.

The initiative, targeted for formal launch next month, has been taken on the instructions of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after feedback received from many dejected overseas Pakistanis over property-related frauds, including misrepresentations, land possessions and fake documentation, not only by land mafia, organised property grabbers and unscrupulous elements but also by friends and relatives, leading to loss of their hard-earned life savings and foreign exchange.

As a result, most overseas Pakistanis generally avoid specialised real estate sectors, even those offered by government institutions in various major cities in recent years.

Even well-to-do Pakistanis living abroad have been shying away from major investments in other real sectors of the economy.

About 10 to 11 million Pakistanis live abroad and about 800,000 people go abroad for emigration or employment every year. Almost half of the diaspora is based in the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A senior government official told Dawn that on the directives of the prime minister, a meeting presided over by the overseas Pakistani and human resource development secretary, Dr Arshad Mehmood, on Friday decided to move forward to introduce three services — issuance of fard, e-registration of property transactions and issuance of mutation certificates — within a month through commercial welfare attaches at all foreign missions abroad.

The official said the embassies and high commission would provide audio-video facilities for overseas Pakistanis, authenticate documents, and verify signatures.

This alone is expected to resolve a long-standing challenge for overseas Pakistanis whose inheritance and other sale-purchase-related transfers remain held up for years and decades because all family members cannot be present at one time in a land revenue or registrar office in Pakistan and suffer from the delaying tactics of the relevant officials. This will also minimise transaction costs and reduce the chances of asset loss.

The initiative would begin in Punjab, where the land revenue record has attained digitisation, and then in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where about three million and two million Pakistanis currently reside, respectively.

The secretary has called another meeting of the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation, the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia, and the Punjab Land Revenue Authority for a service-level agreement for model transaction flow and settlement of standard procedures.

The meeting concluded that these three services carried “lot of significance for overseas Pakistanis as massive litigation load pertains to property-related frauds, impersonations and adverse possessions”.

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