Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Asian Development Bank is due to approve a USD500 million budgetary support to Pakistan

The Asian Development Bank is due to approve a USD500 million budgetary support to Pakistan. According to The Express Tribune, the bank’s executive board will vote on Pakistan’s request Aug. 27.

The ADB funding forms part of the Accelerated Economic Transformation Program, approved in September 2008.

Pakistan's economy has been seriously affected by the skyrocketing international prices of oil and food. The severity of the exogenous shocks, aggravated by the uncertainties surrounding the recent political transition, has been felt on several fronts over the last fiscal year (June 2007-July 2008): the year-on-year overall domestic inflation reaching 24% from 7%; deterioration in the external accounts with current account deficit widening to 8.5% of GDP from 4.8%; depreciation of the Pakistani rupee (PRs) by 22%; foreign exchange reserves declining by more than 40% to $6 billion (about 1.5 months of imports); and unprecedented fuel, food and electricity subsidy needs, which rose four-fold to PRs408 billion ($6 billion) from their original budgeted level. Symptomatic of the declining investor confidence, the Karachi stock index dropped by more than 35% during April-July 2008, and the spreads on sovereign debt have surpassed 1,100 basis points at end-August 2008 from less than 200 basis points in early 2007. The outcome of all this has been a decline in real gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 5.8% from 7% during the previous year.

These challenges facing Pakistan have come despite steady real GDP growth of 7.3% on average per year during FY2004-FY2007. But they have also come in the context of, as well as due to, persistent fiscal, trade and investment imbalances and lack of any significant structural changes in the economy.

Pakistan now needs to transform itself in three directions:
First, it has to address the immediate distortions facing the economy, particularly in the agriculture and energy sectors. The pricing and procurement system for wheat needs to be restructured, and subsidies better targeted to benefit the poor and vulnerable. Untargeted wheat subsidies cost the Government PRs40 billion ($600 million) in fiscal year (FY) 2008. In the electricity sector, Pakistan doest not yet have an automatic tariff adjustment mechanism. The Government needs to reform the subsidy system in the sector, since it has not been able to settle the payments owed to distribution companies, which has resulted in a vicious circular debt problem and debt overhang. This needs to be addressed urgently to resolve the present energy crisis. Electricity subsidies are estimated to have cost PRs133 billion in FY2008 ($2 billion). In addition to these subsidy needs, an estimated $1.6 billion is required to partially protect the poor.

Second, Pakistan needs to strengthen financial intermediation to facilitate structural transformation. At the macro level, the Government has relied heavily on the central bank for its fiscal requirements, a practice that needs to be reversed. In parallel, the legal and regulatory framework should be strengthened to manage risks more effectively in the financial sector, promote consumer confidence, and deepen financial intermediation. 

Third, over the medium to long term, the production and trade structure of the economy needs to be transformed so Pakistan can compete more effectively in the global economy. A deeper industrial base is vital, along with a more productive agricultural sector, greater value creation in the service sector, and far greater export sophistication. To achieve this, the Government has to (i) address short-term policy and institutional distortions, (ii) identify industries where it might compete on a global scale, and (iii) attract private sector investments.
ADB has worked in the past with Pakistan alongside other development partners to support reforms and investments in all three directions. The challenges now facing the country are diverse and significant that immediate assistance is needed to address the short term constraints and to provide safety nets for the poor, while paving way for boosting Pakistan's competitiveness.
ADB was scheduled to approve the budgetary support in May 2010 but deferred the decision due to the Pakistani government’s failure to provide a comprehensive financing plan to rid the inter-corporate debt of state-run companies.

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