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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Jul 23, 2013

IMF bailout package may not be bad deal for Pakistan, say experts

The International Monetary
Fund (IMF) loan agreement may not be a bad deal for Pakistan, but the
government must introduce fiscal responsibility and reduce indirect
taxation for any meaningful economic gains in the future.

These thoughts were expressed by experts at a seminar titled "Pakistan Federal Budget 2013-14 and Role of IMF", organised by the
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Monday.

The IMF has indicated a loan package worth $5.3 billion for Pakistan,
subject to approval from the Washington-based fund’s executive board in
September, which will be payable over ten years. Pakistan had applied
for a $7 billion for balance of payment support.

Speakers at the seminar said that perhaps IMF was not coming to
Pakistan to dictate policies, but to point out the difference in
expenditure and revenues. They said Pakistan has a 48% mismatch in
expenditures and revenues according to the Federal Budget 2013-14.

Farrukh Pitafi,
an analyst and columnist, said the previous government had also
negotiated with the IMF to improve the balance of payment situation. He
said the promise of financial reform failed to materialise then because
of a coalition government that could not develop consensus on the issue.
Pakistan had abandoned a previous $11.3 billion loan programme in 2011,
according to a previous report by The Express Tribune.

The speakers agreed that Pakistan should be happy someone is helping out the country in tough economic times.

"If the IMF loan agreement can help the country widen its
tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) base and overcome the energy crisis,
then to me it is not a bad deal," said Dr Abid Suleri, executive
director of the SDPI.

But Suleri said unless the country wants to head towards another IMF
fund facility in the future, we must practice fiscal discipline and cut
down on indirect taxes, which punish the poor.

"The government needs to give a roadmap to reduce indirect taxation," he said.

Suleri said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) does not go for direct
taxation, because indirect taxation is an easy source of revenue for
them.

Speakers said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government decided
to continue the Benazir Income Support Programme not because of some
political generosity, but because IMF does not allow reduction in social
safety related programmes as a policy.

Safiya Aftab, an economic expert and financial consultant, said the
number of Pakistanis who file direct tax returns – a dismal 1.2 million
Pakistanis file direct taxes and it is not certain how many of these
actually pay taxes – has remained roughly stable over the past 10 years.
Aftab said an optimistic assessment would be that this number can be
doubled in the next five years through governmental effort, especially
if the undocumented economy is brought under the government’s radar.

Responding to a question during the discussion, she said the
government should not tinker with the allocation for provinces in the
National Finance Commission award but put some conditionality in the
award for provinces to generate their own revenue streams.

Suleri said the major problem with IMF loans is that there is no
particular ownership for the loans among the political class. One
government blames the loans taken by the previous governments creating a
vicious cycle, he said.

The speakers said there is no solution in the short or medium term
for cheaper electricity, and therefore the circular debt situation is
going to persist. They urged the government to focus on improving
governance and subsidising alternative energy solutions to cope with the
power crisis.