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Pakistan News Today

Published Date: Apr 26, 2013

Onus on incoming govt to meet economic, energy challenges

Experts
offered solutions to overcome Pakistan’s economic and energy crises at a discussion
forum on Thursday, but only after they were done painting a grim picture of the
country’s past and present.

The
event, titled “What the People Want,” was organised by the Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with South Asian Free
Media Association (Safma).

Displaying
political will and social accountability, deregulating the energy sector,
widening the tax net and avoiding blame games were among the recommendations
put forth by the panel of speakers and discussants.

SDPI
Executive Director Abid Qayyum Suleri said the next elected government had to
understand the origins of the energy crisis instead of shifting the blame onto
previous governments.

He
also recommended reforms for the inefficient public sector enterprises and called
for an end to the Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) culture.

SROs
allow bureaucrats to bypass the elected assemblies to amend laws, a mechanism
that enables the former to serve their own interests.

SDPI
Deputy Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed said the business community was the only
pressure group that could speak out against power sector problems.

Ahmed
said a broader civil society movement incorporating academics and the media was
required to hold the government accountable for the energy crisis.

He
presented 10 energy sector recommendations for the incoming government,
including a revisit to the previous government’s Integrated Energy Plan
2010-2025, deregulating the power sector and bringing the centralised energy
apparatus under authority.

The
recommendations were preceded by a dismal story of Pakistan’s economic
performance during the past five years.

Suleri
said weak governance, poorly conceived tax policies and the power sector crisis
had led to the country’s “weak fiscal health.”

He
lamented the poor GDP growth rate, currently at three per cent, and said the
existing foreign exchange reserves could barely finance one and a half month’s
worth of imports.

“I
think that the caretaker government will have to start negotiating with the International
Monetary Fund for a bailout,” he said.

Suleri
pointed out that the country’s fuel mix had become increasingly dependent on
expensive imported oil and that citizens were paying more for per unit
electricity than the Pakistani rupee equivalent in other countries.

“The
whole paradigm of our economic and energy growth is flawed. It is non-friendly
both for users and economically,” he said.

According
to an SDPI survey, the government was doling out around US$ 70 million per day
in per unit subsidies, of which less then seven per cent had reached citizens
below the poverty line.

Journalist
Mubarak Zeb Khan said despite identifying three million tax evaders,
the Federal Board of Revenue was reluctant to take any action.

The
Express Tribune’s Executive Editor Muhammad Ziauddin, who moderated the
discussion, said the panelists had painted a scary and bleak, yet accurate,
picture of Pakistan’s economy.

“We’re
in a mess. All the instruments of governance have been wrong,” he said.