Corporate legislation in Pakistan has largely been adopted and inherited from British India through the Government of India Act 1935 and has its roots in the Partnership Act 1932, Sale of Goods Act 1930, and the Contract Act 1872, each of which has been incorporated as federal acts through the Constitution of Pakistan (as amended from time to time). As a result, the legislative and judicial functions of Pakistan (and India - a neighbouring jurisdiction) largely rely on English precedent in domestic matters relating to corporate procedure and practices. Indian judgments also hold persuasive value in Pakistani courts.
In Pakistan today, M&As are governed by a host of laws. While some may be specific to the nature of an individual transaction, the following laws are interpreted minutely when advising on M&A deals in Pakistan:
(i) Securities Act 2015 (the Securities Act) and the Listed Companies (Substantial Acquisition of Voting Shares and Takeovers) Regulations, 2017 (the Takeover Regulations)
Where the shares which are the subject of acquisition are held in listed companies, the Securities Act applies together with the Takeover Regulations notified under the Securities Act.
Certain transactions such as rights issues, acquisition of voting shares in the ordinary course of business by banks and financial institutions as enforcement of security, schemes of arrangement or reconstruction (including amalgamations, mergers or de-mergers, sales of shares in pursuance of privatization, and acquisition inter se qualifying persons (such as relatives, major shareholders, etc.) are exempt from the application of the Securities Act.
In particular, the Takeover Regulations contain detailed provisions concerning the acquisition of shares of a listed company. Where an acquirer intends to acquire more than 25% of voting shares or control of the listed undertaking the acquirer is compulsorily required to make a public announcement of offer to acquire voting shares or control of such company. Comparably in India, a bidder that acquires shares that reach certain thresholds of voting rights or control in a public company (directly or indirectly) is mandatorily required to make an open offer for at least 26% of the total shares of the target.
(ii) The Companies (General Forms and Provisions) Regulations 2018 (the Companies Regulations); Companies (Incorporation) Regulations 2017 (the Incorporation Regulations)
The SECP has been established under the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Act 1997, and issues from time-to-time, various rules, regulations, notifications, circulars, directives, and guidelines, often read in conjunction with the Companies Act 2017. One such set of regulation promulgated in 2018 is the Companies Regulations, which sets out the various forms and provisions under which Pakistani companies are required to submit to the SECP in the event of, inter alia, any amendments or developments in its company structure by way of appointing or removing directors, and changes in its shareholders, or shareholding proportions and structures.
Pursuant to the Incorporation Regulations, where foreign persons or entities are acquiring shares in a Pakistani company, or in the case of appointments of foreign directors, such person(s) or entities are required to obtain security clearance from the Ministry of Interior, a division of the Government of Pakistan that monitors national security.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has issued similar rules; however, while the Incorporation Regulations in Pakistan provide for security clearance in respect of all foreign persons and entities, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has narrowed down the requirement of security clearance to countries that share a land border with India, i.e., China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan, before they are confirmed as directors on boards of Indian companies.
(iii) Pakistan Stock Exchange Regulations (the PSX Regulations)
The provisions of the PSX Regulations, notified inter alia under the Securities Act, are also relevant where M&As involve listed companies. Its regulatory ambit includes the corporate sector, capital markets, the financial sector (other than banking) and insurance companies.
(iv) Companies Act 2017 (the Companies Act)
The Companies Act was enacted to facilitate incorporations and promote the development of the corporate sector, regulating corporate entities for protecting the interests of shareholders, creditors, other stakeholders, and the general public, inculcating principles of good governance, safeguarding minority interests in corporate entities and providing an alternate mechanism for the expeditious resolution of corporate disputes.
The Companies Act provides the general framework for schemes of arrangement for amalgamations and restructuring of companies and, inter alia, allows companies (whether private or listed) to enter into arrangements with their members or creditors. Schemes of arrangement under the Companies Act are sanctioned by the SECP or the relevant High Courts, depending on the size of the companies involved (which is determined based on, inter alia, turnover and number of employees).
Separate legal frameworks apply to companies that undertake regulated businesses, e.g., the framework for banks has been provided in the Banking Companies Ordinance 1962, and the framework for insurance companies has been provided in the Insurance Ordinance 2000.
The Companies Act also provides for restrictions on the transfer of shares by the shareholders of a private company, which gives rise to a statutory right of first refusal for shareholders prior to transfer to any third party.
As mentioned in (ii) above, the Companies Regulations provide a return to be filed with the SECP in the event of any allotment of shares or any change of more than 25% in its shareholding, membership, or voting rights.
(v) Foreign Exchange Regulation Act 1947 (the FERA) and the Foreign Exchange Manual (the FEM)
Cross-border M&A transactions which involve foreign exchange and the transfer of securities across jurisdictions, are subject to the FERA and the circulars and notifications issued thereunder.
Significantly, the FERA provides for restrictions on the export and transfer of securities (including shares), such as for issuing or transferring any security or creating or transferring any interest in any security, whether to or in favour of a person resident outside Pakistan. The SBP has granted and set out general exemptions to these restrictions (subject to certain requirements) in connection with the issuance, transfer and export of securities on a repatriation basis. In the event a foreign acquirer falls within the general exemptions as set out therein, it is permitted to acquire shares of a Pakistani company, which shares are then required to be registered with the SBP on a repatriable basis. Registration enables payment of dividends and sale proceeds to be repatriated outside Pakistan for the benefit of the foreign shareholder. Should the general exemptions not apply, special permission of the SBP can be applied for in individual cases.
(vi) Competition Act 2010 (the Competition Act) and the Competition (Merger Control) Regulations 2016 (the Merger Control Regulations)
The Merger Control Regulations have been notified under the Competition Act, Pakistan’s principal anti-trust legislation. The provisions of the Competition Act and the Merger Control Regulations are enforced by the CCP. Where companies that undertake a regulated business - such as banking, telecommunication and insurance - are the subject of an M&A, sector-specific requirements may apply and prior approval is ordinarily required from the relevant regulatory authority. For example, if an acquirer will, on acquisition, hold (beneficially or otherwise) five percent or more of the shares of a banking company, prior approval of the SBP is required.
In Pakistan, the Competition Commission of Pakistan will consider the effects on competition in the local market where foreign players have a local presence (de jure basis). An example of this was the merger between Nestlé SA (incorporated in Switzerland) and Pfizer (incorporated in Delaware, United States). As Nestlé and Pfizer both have presence in Pakistan by way of subsidiaries, and thus products of both companies are available locally, the Competition Commission of Pakistan required the parties to file an application for merger clearance. Conversely, the Competition Commission in India will consider the requirement of pre-merger applications on a de facto basis.
A notable difference in Pakistan’s laws generally and those which affect corporate transactions including M&As, rests on the basis that Pakistan is an Islamic state. Hence Shariah law principles govern the validity and interpretation of corporate legislation. Most notably, provisions relating to payments of interest or any amount deemed to be more than the principal amount of a loan, were determined as being void ab initio by Pakistan’s Federal Shariat Court (albeit the decision has been appealed and so suspended in operation), which held that interest-based arrangements including those found in corporate transactions, are against the principles of Islamic injunctions. In an acquisition of shares, any delay in payment of the full consideration in respect of the purchase of shares that may otherwise require the payment of interest, would thus be considered illegal if the decision were to come into effect.
The Enforcement of Shariah Act 1991 (the Shariat Act) provides that the Islamic injunctions as laid down by the Holy Quran and Sunnah(1) be the supreme law of Pakistan. To this end, a commission has been set up to recommend measures and steps whereby an economic system enunciated by Islam could be established.(2) However, until such time that an alternative Islamic system is introduced, the Shariat Act protects financial obligations and contracts between a “National Institution” and a “Foreign Agency”; the obligations undertaken by a Pakistani borrower to a foreign lender are thus protected under these provisions.(3)
(1) The traditions and practices of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, that constitute a model for Muslims to follow.
(2) The commission is also mandated to oversee the process of elimination of riba from every sphere of economic activity and to recommend such measures to the Federal Government as would ensure total elimination of riba from the economy.
(3) “National Institution” is defined in Section 18 of the Shariat Act to include the Federal and the Provincial Government, a statutory corporation, company, institution body, enterprise or any person in Pakistan and “Foreign Agency” includes a foreign government, institution or capital market, including a bank and any foreign lending agency, an individual and a supplier of goods and services.