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IMF-Backed Budget: Can Pakistan Achieve Fiscal Stability?

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The Government of Pakistan has unveiled an ambitious budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, targeting a significant increase in tax revenue to strengthen its case for a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With a challenging tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($46.66 billion), this represents a near 40% jump from the current year. This article explores whether the IMF-suggested budget will work in Pakistan, considering the nation’s economic conditions and expert opinions.

Ambitious Revenue Targets

Key Objectives

The budget’s primary objectives include reducing the public debt-to-GDP ratio and improving Pakistan’s balance of payments position. The government aims to cut the fiscal deficit to 5.9% of GDP from an estimated 7.4% in the current year. To achieve these targets, widening the tax base and avoiding overburdening existing taxpayers is crucial.

Expert Opinions

Vaqar Ahmed from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute highlighted that the increased tax burden might have inflationary impacts, particularly given the large informal segment of the economy. The central bank echoed this concern, warning of possible inflationary effects due to limited progress in structural reforms to broaden the tax base.

Economic Stabilization Efforts

Inflation and Interest Rates

Pakistan has seen a significant reduction in inflation, dropping from a high of 38% last year to 11.8% in May 2023. In response, the central bank cut interest rates by 150 basis points to boost growth. However, GDP growth remains below the budgeted target, indicating ongoing economic challenges.

Foreign Exchange Reserves

The country’s foreign exchange reserves have improved from a low of $2.9 billion to over $9 billion, reflecting cautious optimism in economic stability. The Pakistani rupee has also stabilized somewhat, providing a more favorable environment for economic planning.

 

IMF and International Support

Recent Developments

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent diplomatic efforts with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and China have been crucial in seeking foreign direct investment. The IMF has acknowledged improvements in Pakistan’s macroeconomic conditions, citing moderate growth and declining inflation.

Cautionary Notes

Despite these improvements, economists urge caution. The restrictive policy decisions, including import limits, have stabilized the economy but not spurred substantial growth. Employment rates and affordability of essential services like electricity remain critical concerns.

 

Potential Risks and Challenges

Structural Reforms

The IMF-led stabilization has historically come with costs to the populace, such as higher energy prices and import restrictions. Reports suggest the upcoming budget may increase taxes and remove subsidies, potentially leading to another wave of inflation.

Public Debt

Pakistan’s public debt remains a significant burden, with external debt and liabilities exceeding $130 billion. The country faces substantial debt repayment obligations, which could strain the economy further if not managed carefully.

Long-Term Sustainability

Experts like Sajid Amin Javed from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute caution that ad-hoc stabilization efforts may not be sustainable. Historical patterns show that such stabilization dissipates as the economy aims for higher growth.

Opportunities and challenges

The IMF-suggested budget for Pakistan presents both opportunities and challenges. While there are signs of economic stabilization, significant risks remain, particularly concerning inflation, public debt, and the need for substantial structural reforms. The success of the budget will depend on the government’s ability to implement these reforms effectively and manage the delicate balance between growth and fiscal prudence. As Pakistan navigates this complex economic landscape, the role of international support and prudent policy decisions will be crucial in determining its path forward.

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