No Rush For IMF Deal | Editorial

Finance Minister Asad Umar is at it again. This time telling the National Assembly that the PTI government is no hurry to sign the IMF package that has been on and off the table more times than the Prime Minister has U-turned. Admittedly, he framed this as a necessary caution to avoid a stringent deal that would hamper Pakistan’s economic progress.
Yet when all is said and done, Mr Umar must recognise the difference between a democratic tradition that keeps lawmakers fully in the loop and one that, in practice, simply tells Parliament that it is doing so; without actually spilling any beans. For this is where Pakistan currently stands when it comes to the status of recently concluded IMF talks.
A delegation from the Fund left the country at the end of last week with no agreement. Except to meet again; likely in two months. This is not necessarily bad news. For it will allow the government’s fiscal measures — such as increased power tariffs and cuts to the development budget — to kick in. Thereby potentially leading to softer terms and conditions in the eventuality that a final deal is struck. Though, in reality, the intervening period before the next meeting is still fairly short; meaning that at best nuanced speculation will be presented.
What Parliament and the IMF need to be apprised of is the terms and conditions of loans and grants and bailout packages pledged by friendly nations; including China. That urgent assistance that has been secured to stabilise the current account deficit does not mean that the Centre can rest on its laurels. For what must come next —and fast — is economic planning for the immediate to near-term. And this can only be done if full financial disclosures are forthcoming. Anything less risks Pakistan’s long-term fiscal health. *
Published in Daily Times, November 25th 2018.

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