Digitized Real Estate Initiatives for Overseas Pakistanis and Challenges

by M. Wasim
Digitized Real Estate Initiatives for Overseas Pakistanis and Challenges

Notwithstanding, real estate has been a preferred and highly sought-after venue for overseas Pakistanis for investment and housing for their own. But it is also a fact, that the Pakistani diaspora is seriously dejected right now over property related frauds at home, including land grabbing, fake documentation as well as previous unreliable schemes by government to lure their investment in real estate and later discontinued without assigning any reason. However, now the present Shahbaz Sharif-led government has embarked upon initiatives by digitizing land record to help overseas Pakistanis with property-related transactions and in a recent meeting this week, an assigned committee has finalized technical and operational details for providing online digital land record services to expats Pakistanis.

Digitization of Land Record for Overseas Pakistanis:

The stated initiatives will reportedly provide online digital land record services including mutation certificates, electronic registration for property sales, purchases, and transfers, all accessible through video facilities at Pakistani diplomatic missions worldwide. The services to overseas Pakistanis provided through its foreign missions abroad and is set to formally launch starting from Saudi Arabia, to attract foreign inflows. Later, the initiatives will expand to other countries with large Pakistani diasporas such as the UAE, US, and UK within the next couple of months, followed by Spain, Italy, Canada, and so forth.

The scheme is a joint effort of Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis (MOP) and Punjab Land Revenue Authority (PLRA), with the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and will be inaugurated next month by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to attract investments and remittances from Pakistanis abroad. Initially it was also reported that the initiative would be part of a package for overseas that also includes investment opportunities, real estate projects, as well as taxation and baggage incentives, but they are unclear so far.

Overseas Investments via Roshan Digital Account Scheme:

A document, issued by the MOP and Human Resource Development in April 2023, reveals that approximately 9 million Pakistanis are working and residing in different countries around the globe. To tap the potential of their remittances and cash inflows, Roshan Digital Account (RDA) Scheme was launched in September 2020. Quickly, the RDA scheme developed as an established brand, which connects expats with country’ banking payment system and investment opportunities. According to a survey by the State Bank of Pakistan the number of Roshan Digital Account holders has reached 400,000. The survey also reveals 23% of these  expats Account Holders are permanent residents and 5% temporary residents.

The survey found that 70% of people opened an account for family support, 11% for stock market investment and 22% for real estate investment. Besides, 36% depositors belonged to Saudi Arabia, 23% to the United Arab Emirates and 10% to the European Union and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif terms overseas Pakistanis an asset to the country and expressed full support for the RDA scheme. “Our government stands firmly behind the Roshan Digital Account scheme,” he states in April 2023.

A Checkered History of Real Estate Initiatives for Expats:   

Despite the digitalized land record initiatives and somehow facilitation in property transactions, it is a million-dollar question will the PM Shehbaz Sharif succeed to win the confidence of Pakistani diaspora? The reality is overseas Pakistanis hardly trust in public sector initiatives pertaining to schemes for real estate investment and property transactions. As various federal governments badly failed to turn these schemes’ blue prints into sustainable realities. Here are few examples

Overseas Pakistanis
Roshan Digital Accounts hits 400,000
  1. Roshan Apna Ghar; Launched by former PM Imran Khan, Roshan Apna Ghar was an eye-catching scheme for non-resident Pakistanis to buy, build or renovate their homes in Pakistan through their own investment or bank financing under the Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar scheme at economical rates starting from 3%. Thousands of people applied for the subsidized loan for housing under Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar (MPMG) scheme, but in July 2022 the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) instructed banks to put on hold further disbursements under the program, putting an unannounced halt on Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar. Although, then Finance Minister Miftah Ismail assured to revive the scheme but it isn’t materialized yet making thousands of expats uncertain about their investment.
  2. Nilore Heights:  Another recent example is Nilore Heights in Islamabad. At the moment, it is 2,400 apartments project originally intended for the lower strata of society, with 2,000 allocated to the NPHDA for further allotments and 400 for slum dwellers in the city area. However, in an unexpected turn last year, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) decided to auction 2,000 apartments to overseas Pakistanis for USD 30,000 each, instead of allotting them to the low-income group as initially planned. This decision faced legal challenges, even delaying the balloting scheduled. That led the CDA to abandon the idea of selling apartments in its Nilore Heights Project to overseas Pakistanis to add on more disappointment.
  3. Special Courts for Overseas Pakistanis:  Couple of years ago, a proposal regarding the establishment of Special Courts for Overseas Pakistanis through an Ordinance or Act of Parliament was also tabled before the Cabinet Division. The Cabinet Division approved the proposal however, the ordinance was not promulgated yet, despite its resubmission through Law & Justice Division.

All these failures led to serious dejection of overseas Pakistanis, and will the present government restore their trust, it doesn’t seem sooner.


Editorial, Infocus

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