The Pakistani government has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to send a mission to the country as soon as possible, preferably next week, to finalize a long-awaited agreement to restart the loan program. Indeed, the government made it clear on Thursday that it was ready to accept the IMF’s four main conditions.
After a week of meetings, including at least two that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif led from Lahore via video link, a senior government official told Dawn: “We have completed our work in all four areas based on our conversations at the Geneva conference. “
During talks with the possible IMF mission, the official said, “We plan to implement all the agreements.” This meant that the country was ready to move forward with the reforms promised in the program.
Pakistani Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh has formally requested the IMF mission chief to visit the country.
A member said the IMF bailout was a solution to all Pakistan’s problems right now. The Fund delegation was invited to sit on the other side of the table and finish everything.
He said the lack of decisive action to get the Fund to send the mission was because any choice would cause a lot of problems and, without the right solutions, could further harm the already fragile economy.
If the central bank’s policy rate is raised to fight inflation, it could make debt repayment more expensive. He also said higher prices for things like gas and electricity would add to inflation.
The aim is to get around 70-80 billion rupees from the banks which have made a lot of money from foreign exchange trading. The other 150 billion rupees will have to come from other sources, such as a flood tax on imports.
So the IMF might say that the government’s plans are not enough, which would mean taking more action that might not be possible in a short period of time.
When IMF officials visited Pakistan to finalize a deal, another official said the government told them it was ready to implement decisions in line with what was discussed in Geneva.
“They are also expected to show some flexibility,” he said. “Given their recent commitments and the economic problems caused by the flooding, they had to cope,” he said.
To keep the budget deficit within the original program targets, the Fund demanded four major changes: a market-based exchange rate, an increase in electricity and gas tariffs (on average Rs. -hour and Rs 750 per MMBtu, respectively), and more taxes to compensate for revenue slippages (by almost Rs 100 billion by one estimate and Rs 225 billion by another estimate).
Members of the government promised the public that it would be the wealthy who would suffer most of the effects of these changes, not the average person.
We can no longer avoid pleasing the Fund. One official said if negotiations fail Pakistan cannot pay for the mission to come back and say nothing has changed.
Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha, Pakistani Minister of State for Finance and negotiator, said Pakistan had told the IMF that it was ready to carry out the agreed reforms and was working to resolve the remaining issues.
She said maintaining the IMF program was a way for the government to prevent ordinary people from having to make tough decisions.