ISLAMABAD: Former finance minister Dr Hafeez A Pasha has said Pakistan has no option but to go back to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.
He was speaking at a plenary of 4-day 23rd Sustainable Development Conference (SDC) panel titled “Economic Growth, Social Protection, and the IMF Programme amid COVID-19”. He said Pakistan did not have a big number of COVID-19 cases compared with other developed and developing nations, but still it had seen significant reduction in the GDP growth.
Our independent estimate is that growth fell by -2.5% during fiscal year 2019-20 and will only remain 1% during the ongoing fiscal year. This is the largest decline since early 2000s. Almost 70% of the displaced workers are from the informal sector, which will bring implications for welfare, he added.
Dr Pasha said the stock of unemployed workers doubled due to COVID-19. “The Central Bank of Pakistan reduced the interest rate which was a big move and increased liquidity in transitional period. Remittances increased 27% thanks to abroad workers. Ehsaas programme also brought fruitful results. Main issue for the government is that there is still a fiscal crunch. There will be large debt servicing payments in future. It seems that Pakistan has no option except to go back to the IMF,” Dr Pasha added.
Vladimir Norov, the secretary-general of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), said though coronavirus incurred enormous damage on the public health and global economy, it brought new opportunities at the same time, accelerating the process of digital transformation in all sectors of life.
He was speaking at the SDC sessions titled ‘Sustainable Development in the Times of COVID-19’, inaugurated by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad on Monday.
Norov said the digital economy and cross-border e-commerce will play an increasingly important role in rebuilding the world economy after the COVID-19 in terms of achieving economic growth, increasing the competitiveness of economies and improving the quality of lives thus contributing to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In times of COVID-19, global online retail sales are on the rise, and additional jobs are being created, he added.
“The SCO member countries see stability in Afghanistan as a need for regional peace and economic development,” Norov said, adding that Afghanistan share borders with four SCO member states and its stability is crucial for peace and development of the entire region. He said that this year’s SCO Summit concluded while finalising an action plan for the implementation of the SCO development strategy 2025, which focuses on the early recovery of our economies from the pandemic. Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, the chairperson of SDPI board of governors, in his welcome address, said since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the deadly disease affected over 65 million people and killed half a million, including doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Efforts to contain the spread of the virus through lockdowns, restricting all kinds of human activities, have led to huge financial losses. Industrial production and trade, travel within and across countries, tourism, educational and cultural activities and normal healthcare facilities have been disrupted. These measures have impeded socio-economic development, accelerated unemployment, deepened poverty, disrupted food supply chain and threat to food security in many regions.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri highlighted the key facets of Food Security Dashboard, which was developed jointly by the SDPI and National Security Division, Government of Pakistan and will be launched during the upcoming days of the conference. Dr Suleri said COVID-19 has negatively affected most aspects of the SDGs. The pandemic has increased the incidence of poverty, food insecurity, diverted the resources from conventional diseases and elective surgeries to COVID-19, and deprived hundreds of millions of students from classrooms, he said, adding that for women and girls, it has turned into a shadow pandemic, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities have aggravated the risk of spread of COVID-19. “On the one hand, the core agenda of SGDs seems to be compromised, and on the other, there is a silver lining, as it has brought social sector development back on the radar of governments.” He said now the world governments simply can’t afford to compromise on health, social protection, and food security.
Faisal Rifaq, the CEO of Prime Minister’s Health Insurance Scheme, Lire Ersado from World Bank Group and Haris Gazdar from IDEAS, said that good health is essential for the economic and social growth and national databases like NADRA have become indispensable.
Dr Jochen Hippler, the head of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Pakistan highlighting the different aspects of the COVID impact on national economy, said that development of vaccine for COVID-19 sadly operated by international powers like US and other European states.
Speaking at a concurrent session on ‘Role of media amidst COVID-19 outbreak: From Pakistan and beyond’, Joydeep Gupta, senior media analyst from India, said a combination of ignorance and empathy has been observed in the overall media industry which needs special attention of the government.
Ram Sharam Sedhai, senior media analyst from Nepal, said the media houses need to take special care of their reporters and other staff being the frontline forces by taking care of their physical activities at professional level. Senior anchors Asma Shirazi and Arifa Noor also spoke on the occasion.