They should have higher priorities


WEB DESK: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar witnessed the signing ceremony of four agreements between the World Bank, represented by Country Director Patchamuthu Illangovan, and Secretary Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan Tariq Bajwa.

In this context, it is relevant to note that finance ministers of other countries, including those heavily reliant on borrowing from international donor agencies like the World Bank to meet their budgeted expenditures, follow protocol and rarely, if ever, attend signing ceremonies between an international mid-level bureaucrat and a mid-level to senior domestic bureaucrat. Thus the Finance Minister’s decision to witness the ceremony diminished the aura of the office he holds and, according to the rising number of his critics, must raise questions about the protocol that he demands and receives domestically.

Since the Sharif administration took over power the Finance Minister has shown a marked penchant for photo-ops and has left no event in which he participates unreported by the official media. This is particularly galling in this current instance as the four loan agreements are part of World Bank’s 144-page-long Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) 2015-19 for Pakistan that the Finance Ministry reviewed and provided its input in April 2014 or over two years ago. As per the World Bank website “after an extensive, countrywide consultation process with a diverse set of stakeholders…(CPS) is structured to help the country tackle the most difficult – but potentially transformational – areas to reach the twin goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity”.

The total outlay of the CPS as per the World Bank website is “an indicative financing envelope of about 11 billion dollars over the CPS period. This includes an IDA lending of about 1.1 billion dollars per year.” The question is how much of the indicative financing in the CPS has actually been released to Pakistan? The Bank’s website notes that: “The World Bank Pakistan portfolio has 26 investment lending projects under implementation with a total net commitment of 4.99 billion dollars.

To date, we have committed over 5.6 billion dollars in Pakistan, including 1.2 billion dollars during the 2015 fiscal year. International Finance Corporation’s advisory services programme in Pakistan is one of its largest in the region, with 13 active projects and a funding commitment of over 20 million dollars”. However in 2015, the first year of the CPS, the country received 1.2 billion dollars and in 2016 is expected to receive 2.37 billion dollars.

The four World Bank projects formally signed by the World Bank and EAD representatives included (i) Balochistan integrated water resources management and development project at a cost of 200 million dollars, however disturbingly for political reasons the government continues to subsidise agriculture tubewells in Balochistan, a benefit limited to the rich; (ii) Third Punjab education sector project at a cost of 300 million dollars, but for the success of this loan one would hope that the Punjab-run education sector undertakes urgent governance reforms including the issue of ghost teachers and schools; (iii) Sindh resilience project for mitigating the impact of floods costing 100 million dollars an amount which unfortunately is grossly insufficient unless supplemented by funding from the centre as well as the provincial government which has not been evident in either the federal nor the provincial budget; and (iv) national immunisation support programme, including polio, for 50 million dollars with the success contingent on providing foolproof security to immunization workers who continue to be subjected to life threats.

Be that as it may, one cannot but support these four loans and one would hope that the Finance Minister instead of wasting time witnessing such ceremonies focuses on the minutiae of how to implement governance reforms as well as formulating a strategy to fuel economic growth.

What is going on? The Prime Minister is handing over cheques of sales tax refunds to businessmen. He along with his Finance Minister launching addition of ‘Premier Service’ class to PIA. This certainly is not their job; they should have higher priorities.

Source: Business Recorder