Starting up a new business is a daunting task, and one of the toughest things in the past was getting construction permits. Running from one office department to the other, paperwork, approvals – the processes were both overwhelming and time-consuming.
The good news is – getting a construction permit in Sindh is now faster than ever. And we have a woman to thank for being one of the key people behind these new reforms. Handling business reforms with regards to construction permits, she is part of an area of work that was usually considered too tough for women to venture into. Yet, she has taken the road less traveled, and these business reforms will not only help those venturing into setting up businesses, but will help women in particular.
The Government of Sindh (GoS) is pursuing a reform agenda to facilitate ease of business in the province to promote investment in all sectors of economy, facilitate local and foreign investors in speedy materialization of their projects, enhance Sindh’s international competitiveness, and contribute to economic and social development. The aim is to bring together initiatives and action on reforms, as taken by multiple provincial departments and agencies, geared to facilitate ease of doing business in the province.
The “Doing Business Reforms” as they are called are aimed at improving the investment climate in Pakistan, and consistent efforts are being made towards the automation and computerization of related processes. This is where Asma and her team come in.
Asma Ghayoor, Deputy Director of IT at the Sindh Board and Control Authority
In an exclusive interview, Asma Ghayoor, Deputy Director of IT at the Sindh Board and Control Authority (SBCA), talks about specific reforms spearheaded by the Government of Sindh, with technical assistance and support from the World Bank.
“With the recent and upcoming reforms by Government of Sindh in collaboration with the World Bank Group, processes will become easier and businesses will get a lot of assistance in making their operations smoother.”
Q: What is your exact designation and job description at SBCA?
AG: I am the Deputy Director, IT – PSO to DG, Sindh Building Control Authority.
I have a team of 16 people including officers and staff.
I am also the focal person for Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) reforms on the indicator “Construction Permits”.
Q: What is a day at work for you like?
AG: As in-charge of the IT team, I run quotidian operations of the department. My job is ensuring data is fed in time on daily basis and all reports and lists are printed and delivered to the respective departments, as required.
As focal person of EoDB, my individual tasks vary on day-to-day basis. A series of actions, either face-to-face or over the phone are required to resolve issues. Routine job involves working on Construction Permit Procedures and Regulations to streamline processes to facilitate general public. Managing reports, responding to queries, and designing information for website and social media to showcase the work and make it accessible to general public, is an integral part of my job. Prioritizing and managing many cases at a time is decision making at its best.
Sometimes I travel to attend conferences and trainings. Working hours are typically from 9 am to 5 pm, but depending on the urgency of job I work on evenings and weekends.
I find my work very rewarding. The nature of my job is very vast and fulfilling that I look beyond my title and work towards the progress of my country.
Q: Share the journey of your career.
AG: I did my BE (Civil) from N.E.D University. I got appointed in SBCA in 1993 and did my Masters in Information System from Virtual University alongside the job, since I could not attend regular classes. I have been working as Deputy Director, IT, since 2006.
Q: As Deputy Director IT, how do you contribute to the smoothing out of the process of getting construction permits?
AG: The IT department is the main focus in Construction Permit Reforms. Our team is helping in developing software to enable people to go through the process of getting Construction Permits online. For this purpose, the requirements for software, hardware, and database management have to be ascertained. This will be a major transformation as we are going from manual to an online system. In an effort to change the collective social mindset, I have also started giving trainings and advice to my colleagues on the use of electronic systems.
Q: Tell us something about the Doing Business Reforms in connection with Construction Permits.
AG: Doing Business records all procedures required for a business in the construction industry to build a warehouse along with the time and cost to complete each procedure.
Additionally, Doing Business measures the building quality control index, evaluating the quality of building regulations, the strength of quality control and safety mechanisms, liability and insurance regimes, and professional certification requirements.
Information is collected through a questionnaire administered to experts in construction licensing, including architects, civil engineers, construction lawyers, construction firms, utility service providers and public officials who deal with building regulations, including approvals, permit issuance and inspections. The ranking of economies on the ease of dealing with construction permits is determined by sorting their distance to frontier scores for dealing with construction permits. These scores are the simple average of the distance to frontier scores for each of the component indicators.
Q: Why do you think Doing Business Reforms are important for Pakistan and for Sindh?
AG: Karachi is the business hub of Pakistan. Doing Business Reforms will encourage business environment in Sindh. This will help strengthen the economy in Sindh and Pakistan, in a larger perspective and have a positive multiplier effect.
Q: What are the reforms that have been made by SBCA in connection with Doing Business Reforms, and which are in the pipeline? How will they help the common man/woman to start a business?
AG: These reforms have made it easier to obtain construction permits, and the results have already started showing. At the moment, we have data with details of Construction Permits that have been issued within 30 days’ time as per our notification issued in wake of Construction Permit Reform. With SBCA moving towards Single Window Facility, the processes will be online and people will be able to submit their application for Construction Permits and related documents from the ease of their homes. Communication regarding queries shall also be made easy through emails.
The following reforms have been introduced by SBCA:
- a) Amendment in Category-I notified
- b) Time reduction to grant construction permits to 30 days and for completion certificates to 30 for Category-l
- c) SBCA waiver of Floor Certificate requirements for Category-I buildings
- d) Requirement of NOC from KW&SB, SEPA, and Excise and Taxation Department nullified
- g) Checklist availability of documents required for submission of Construction Permit on the website
- h) Introduction of SWF (Single Window Facility).
With regards to computerization of processes, SBCA has a separate tab for Ease of Doing Business on the website where links to all the requisite information are provided.
The process of starting Single Window Facility at SBCA is in progress. Our team hopes to get it up and running before the end of this year. Complete automation of Construction Permit process is next in line and will hopefully kick start by next year.
Q: Which government agencies is SBCA working closely with for these reforms?
AG: SBCA is working under the directives of Government of Sindh for introducing reforms in Sindh. The Chief Minister of Sindh, Chief Secretary, and ACS are gracious enough to chair progress meetings. Ms Naheed Memon, Chairman Sindh Board of Investment (SBI) is leading the reforms; she holds regular meetings to facilitate coordination between different departments of Sindh working on the reforms.
Q: How has your experience been as a woman in the government sector? Was it tough?
AG: Being a working woman in any sector, public or private, has its own pros and cons. Government sector has less number of working women especially in officer grade, so it has always been hard to feel easy in the environment. But my experience has always been positive. I have gotten respect for my hard work, efficiency, and honesty. Times are changing, and as more women are being appointed in government offices, we’re seeing the receptivity and recognition.
Q: Are any reforms targeted towards women entrepreneurs in particular? If so, can you please provide some insights into them?
AG: A cardinal part of the reforms introduced by World Bank are focused on encouraging entrepreneurship in women. For instance, the Construction Permit Reform where following steps are being taken for Rehabilitation of Single Window Facility:
- A separate counter is designated for women in Single Window Solution Premises of SBCA
- Females are to be hired for Public dealing services to make women clientele more comfortable
- Two separate multi-purpose areas being built, one for female visitors and another one for males to ease the operations on floor
- Awareness sessions underway on “Sexual Harassment against Women at Workplace Act 2010” to make work environment less hostile for women
These and many more reforms in the pipeline will make women feel welcomed and motivate them to step forward in their entrepreneurial ventures.
Q: How many more businesses do you see springing up as a result of these reforms? Can you make any predictions about the future of SMEs in Sindh at this point?
AG: To be honest, I am mainly working on Construction Permits but construction industry is magnanimous in itself. I foresee development of construction material businesses, flourishing of the interior design industry, and growth of electronic and security systems businesses in Sindh over time, as a result of these reforms.
Q: Any suggestions or advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in Sindh?
AG: This is a great time for aspiring entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises to invest in and burgeon their businesses. With the recent and upcoming reforms by Government of Sindh in collaboration with the World Bank Group, processes will become easier and businesses will get a lot of assistance in making their operations smoother. My advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs will be to steer their thought processes in the direction of creating businesses and opportunities for many.