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An assessment of current policy advocacy tools used by chambers of commerce in Pakistan

By Nida Qasim Khan*

Context:

Accountability Lab Pakistan has worked with chambers of commerce in its recent Business Accountability Bootcamps, and in the process has gathered some insights into how they operate. Some of the key findings made were that they lack the advocacy tools that are required of a chamber of commerce, such as proper websites, updated social media channels, or a platform where they share press releases, minutes of their internal meetings, and other such details of their work. We understand at Accountability Lab Pakistan that chambers of commerce are the bridge between business communities and the government, and as such hold much leverage in influencing policies that affect local businesses directly.

However, due to a lack of efficient advocacy tools and a lack of progressiveness, Pakistan’s chambers of commerce are unable to achieve the influence with government that is the essential cornerstone of a chamber. Given how important a role these chambers hold for the success of creating better business environments locally, we find it necessary to highlight where they stand in Pakistan’s context, and what can be done so that they can reach the international standard. Accountability Lab will continue to work closely with these chambers and encourage lobbying for OGP through their advocacy with the government officials.

In order to push for Pakistan to send its Action Plan to OGP, chambers of commerce are the organizations that will have the influence to make it happen. As such we decided to produce two blogs around two facets of the chambers of commerce, one being an assessment of advocacy tools put in place by them and the second focusing on membership facilities and how to get the most out of a chamber as a local business.

Make-up of a chamber of commerce:

A chamber of commerce is an organization of businesses seeking to further their collective interests within a community, region, state, or nation. Business owners in towns, cities and other territories voluntarily form these local societies and networks to advocate on behalf of their community at large, to promote economic prosperity and business interests in the area. A business-led civic and economic advancement entity operating in a specific space may call itself a “chamber of commerce”.

Chamber missions vary, but they all tend to focus to some degree on five primary goals: building communities (regions/states/nations) to which residents, visitors and investors are attracted; promoting those communities; striving to ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate; representing the unified voice of the employer community; and reducing transactional friction through well-functioning networks. Chambers also have other features in common: most chambers are led by private-sector employers, are self-funded, and organized around boards/committees of volunteers. They share a common ambition for sustained prosperity of their community/region, built on the success of employers. Most are ardent proponents of the free market system, resisting attempts to overly burden private sector enterprise and investments.

Current advocacy and policy tools used by chambers of commerce worldwide

As a non-governmental organization, a chamber of commerce cannot directly play a role determining regulations and policies affecting businesses. However, it can attempt to lobby to get laws passed that benefit businesses. A good example of advocacy done right is that of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, that services the Los Angeles county of the United States.

A case study of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce:

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has 10 policy councils that make recommendations to the chamber on various issues in the LA area. It’s Councils meet on average six to nine times each year to discuss issues affecting the business community and L.A. County. These include councils dealing with Education and Workforce Development, Energy Water and Sustainability, Global Initiatives, Government and Fiscal Affairs, Health Care, Innovation and Technology, Land Use, Construction and Housing, Nonprofit, Small Business, & Transportation and Goods Movement.

Each of these 10 councils are made up of members and meet on a regular basis to discuss strategies on issues that come in their respective fields. For example, the Global Initiatives council meets to discuss the development and access to international markets by local companies and come up with ways to maximize the region’s diverse resources to increase its opportunities in the global economy. These member-driven councils then try to influence policymakers in the LA area on key issues that they believe are affecting the economy and quality of life in the county.

The chamber organizes advocacy trips each year to help local businesses engage in dialogue with policymakers and elected officials, in order to help influence changes in their region. The chamber also publishes industry-specific newsletters, annual and special reports, as well as quarterly and yearly magazines to showcase policy news related to businesses, highlights of the Chamber’s work in the community, global trade and hot issues in the community, politics and topics affecting local businesses, as well as the Chamber’s annual accomplishments.

Current Policy tools used by Chambers of Commerce in Pakistan:

Pakistan’s chambers of commerce provide various resources to its members. Islamabad’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ICCI) for example, offers opportunities to its members such as participation in meetings/conferences/seminars, attending meetings with foreign business delegations and B2B meetings, joining ICCI business delegations to attend international trade exhibitions and conferences, free/paid participation in awareness, training and capacity building programs, attending international trade exhibitions and international training programs, advisory support for business development, etc.

A case study of Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry

The Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) is a hub of all major businesses of Pakistan. As such, it features multiple sub-committees including General Sales Tax[1]  / Sindh Revenue Board,[2]  Federal Taxation, Exports / Special Economic Zones, Customs  & Valuation, Import, Anti-Smuggling, Quarantine & Certifications, Industry & Environment, Banking & Insurance, Fairs, Exhibitions & Trade Delegations, Law & Order, Communication, Diplomatic Missions & Embassies Liaison, Public Sector, Utilities, Power & Gas, Provincial & Local Taxes, Ports, Shipping & Multi Modal Transport, Health & Education, World Trade Organization (WTO), Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), Free Trade Agreement (FTA)[3] & Regional Trade, Women Entrepreneurs, Travel & Tourism, Hajj & Umrah, and Housing, Construction & Real Estate.

KCCI publishes daily e-bulletins covering latest information concerning business and trade in Karachi and Pakistan in general, such as economic indicators, changes in currency, governmental and foreign trade measures affecting local businesses, etc. It also publishes surveys, research, policy reports, and conducts surveys on issues of business in Karachi. Recently, KCCI  published the FY 2020 report covering the major issues of the past year in Karachi, and KCCI’s role in helping alleviate some of those issues.

It was reported that KCCI members advocated on behalf of the following issues that had taken a toll on Karachi’s economic landscape: issues relating to Karachi’s ‘disowned’ population, such as weak infrastructure, issues related to utilities, assisting the government in navigating the coronavirus crisis, tackling taxation issues, promoting foreign trade, and fighting for a more business friendly budget. To achieve such advocacy, the KCCI arranged meetings between the business and industrial community and the federal, provincial, and local government officials.  The elected officials of KCCI also held regular meetings with the federal government and suggested ways to balance the increasingly threatening COVID-19 crisis with respect to the economic slowdown. Although the government did not put into effect the entire strategy that was put forward by KCCI regarding this, however, some of the suggested measures were put into place over time.

What can be improved?

The chambers in Pakistan rely heavily on internal meetings of chamber members, and are not focused on utilizing other platforms effectively. Not using these tools that are widely used by chambers across the world could end up costing the chambers an important amount of advocacy opportunities both with the government, its various departments, and the public.

Despite the fact that KCCI is one of the most influential chambers of Pakistan, besides arranging meetings, it is not clear what other tools it employs on behalf of advocacy and policy influence. It is unclear if KCCI arranges regular advocacy trips or seminars for its members, what each council’s role is in policy change for each of its business sectors, and how their advocacy has caused any major changes at the local, federal, or international level. Roles of each council should be clearly outlined with their own meetings, goals, advantages, and achievements highlighted on KCCI’s website, to allow for better management by giving each of the councils its own list of responsibilities.

KCCI’s official website and that of other chambers of commerce in Pakistan could be developed to be more user-friendly, with better organization and should be more updated using the current technologies available for creating professional websites. Digitization is one of the key components of today’s age, and as such, it is crucial that KCCI also pay attention to that aspect of running an organization. Accordingly, KCCI should follow international standards of chambers’ communication systems, and update its social media platforms to create a better interface that would allow members to engage better with the chamber.

*The author is associated with Accountability Lab as its Communications Lead

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.