ISLAMABAD: The World Bank Group’s president has pressed Pakistan to maintain the momentum of reforms aimed at achieving higher pace of economic growth to lift people out of poverty, with special stress on transforming the energy sector.
“Pakistan has a great opportunity to become more ambitious in reforming its economy so that more people are lifted out of poverty more quickly and prosperity is more widely shared among its people,” said Jim Yong Kim during his meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and economic ministers.
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The WB chief is on a two-day visit to Pakistan — the first in more than a decade by the head of the lending agency. His push for reforms comes
at a time when the government seems divided over privatising the power sector. It has also stopped the process of privatisation of the Faisalabad Electricity Supply Company.
“Now is the moment for Pakistan to step up to a higher level of growth and opportunity for all its people,” a WB statement quoted Jim as saying. He acknowledged that the government has stabilised the economy over three tough years, and discussed in his meeting with the premier about the importance of pressing forward with reforms that would unlock the country’s potential.
Jim is said to have told PM Nawaz and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to strive for a higher level of ambition for economic reforms. “These could include strengthening the role of the private sector for job creation, accelerating energy reforms, making improvements at the community level for health and education, and ensuring anti-poverty measures are effective at reaching the poor.”
Appreciating award-winning Afghan refugee Aqeela Asifi’s inspirational role for Afghan girls’ education, the WB president said: “All girls deserve the right to an education.”
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Both sides also discussed a Development Policy Credit loan amounting to $500 million to promote economic reforms.The WB has forecast that Pakistan’s economy will grow at a pace of 4.5% in the current fiscal — 1% lower than the official target and far lower than the needed pace of 7% to absorb the youth entering the job markets.
“The government believes in liberal and private sector-driven economy,” Nawaz told Jim. He said the government’s efforts were aimed at ensuring ideal business environment for the private sector as governments are not meant to do business.
The premier appreciated the WB’s support in Pakistan’s economic growth and resumption of policy lending after the present government took over. “The policy-based loans would go a long way in helping the government implement its reform agenda and further improve the business environment in Pakistan.”
Nawaz said the government was making all-out efforts to bring improvements in every sector, including development of mega hydropower projects, rail and road infrastructure, and education and health.
He underlined that the WB’s assistance for the Dasu hydropower project and the Tarbela-IV extension project would help the government improve the energy mix and reduce dependence on expensive fuels.
The WB president expressed full support for the government’s economic decisions and said the lending agency supported the structural reform agenda.
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“I can recall our first meeting when I had shared my worries about Pakistan’s security, energy and macroeconomic stability,” Jim told Nawaz. “Let me state that under your leadership Pakistan has witnessed phenomenal improvements in all three sectors and we support your endeavours.”
The WB chief applauded the economic policies of the government, saying that Pakistan’s economic outlook had become stable. “Pakistan is now on the path to increased economic growth and prosperity.” Jim also met Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and Punjab government officials. In the next leg, he would meet Sindh government officials.
Jim underlined the importance of the role of the provincial governments in the effective implementation of reforms.
Earlier, at the launch of the Universal Financial Access Initiative, he said: “The movement towards digital economy is going to happen and my suggestion to Pakistan is to move now to take advantage of being a leader.”
The digitisation of Pakistan’s economy will help reduce corruption and increase available resources for expenses at household level, he added.
He also participated in a panel discussion on ‘Managing Displaced Populations’ and learnt how the country managed a large Afghan refugee population. “There is much the world can learn from Pakistan, which has for decades hosted refugees from other countries or had to cope with temporarily displaced people within its own borders,” said Jim.
WB Vice President for South Asia Region Annette Dixon said that one of the lessons from Pakistan’s experience was that the development community had to rethink its paradigm, “as we are in a situation where development cannot be separated from security”.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2016.