Asrar Raouf describes the increasing economic complications
Economic Difficulties Mounting – The economic cycle of Pakistan is slowly grinding to a halt. The situation is so dire that people have now stopped talking about signing of staff-level agreement with the IMF as they think that matters have deteriorated much more than they were even a few months before. There is hardly any optimism left in the general public about possible economic improvement in the near or even medium term and a growing majority now considers the possibility of long term improvement less than probable. The analysts are of the view that there appears no attempt to address the structural faultlines in the economic system of the country and the economic managers are trying to treat cancer with a simple pain killer. On the other hand the economic managers complain that they are not free to act on their own and are under pressure to do somebody else’s bidding. They also feel that many strong elements in the country have held them back to get to grip with the unruly retail sector and a horde of tax dodgers. They also point out that there is hardly any space to grant some relief to common people as the only way to do so is to subsidise sectors of economy affecting the down trodden but this policy runs contrary to international aid giving agencies particularly the IMF.
A massive difficulty they face is the extreme paucity in revenue available to the state for allocating financial resources to the lower sections of the populace and also development work. It is a matter of deep worry that despite the looming spectre of the IMF becoming more stringent in the conditions they impose on the economic management the revenue collection has failed to come up to expectations. It is reported in this context that the shortfall in tax collection has widened to a huge Rs.400 billion as the FBR could collect only Rs.5.62 trillion in the first 10 months of current fiscal year. This shortfall has resulted even after a mini-budget was announced coupled with steep devaluation witnessed in the value of rupee. It is considered view of financial analysts that this huge gap may almost be impossible to bridge in the remaining two months of the current financial year. This implies that the declared target of Rs.7.640 trillion may not be achieved creating further difficulties of the official economic managers.
The revenue collection target fell short of the monthly target of Rs.586 billion for April with a gap of Rs.123 billion and registered a negative growth of nearly 4%. This shortfall is already a massive problem for the coalition government as it has to bear the fall in revenue collection along with 36 per cent inflation that is eating out in the national economic pie. With this shortfall already registered the FBR needs to collect over Rs.2.02 trillion in the remaining two months of the current financial year at an average of Rs.33 billion per day to achieve the annual target. It is reported that the average daily collection in 10 months that have gone by was nearly Rs.19 billion pointing out that the target is well nigh impossible to achieve. The tax collection failed to improve despite the coalition government introducing a mini-budget of Rs.170 billion and informing the IMF that rupee depreciation would result in an added amount of Rs.180 billion that would help reduce the collection shortfall. The tax collection activity is so sluggish that the coalition government was left with no option but to impose nearly Rs.800 billion in additional taxes during the current fiscal year but the collection prospects did not improve. The shortfall will result in more borrowing that in turn will squeeze the government’s budget space due to higher interest costs.
Fiscal management has also proved problematic for the economic managers as is borne out by the fact that the Current Account Deficit (CAD) is projected to be at $9.2 billion for 2024 that will keep Pakistan’s total external financing requirements over $34 billion for the second consecutive year. Compared to the rise in the CAD and total external financing needs, the two most crucial non-debt-creating inflows – exports and remittances – are projected to grow nominally. It is reported that the increase in exports and foreign remittances show the tendency to remain subdued with the outcome that the cumulative receipts of exports and remittances, projected at $61 billion for 2024 considered almost equal to the imports in the next fiscal year mean that Pakistan will meet its external debt obligations of around $25 billion through a combination of fresh foreign borrowing and seeking rollovers of the existing financing facilities extended by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China. This situation will widen the CAD to $9.2 billion or 2.3% of the GDP in the next fiscal year that is $2.2 billion or over 31% higher than the downward revised estimates of a $7 billion deficit in the outgoing fiscal year. This will bring the total external financing requirements to over $34 billion in the next fiscal year underscoring the need for yet another bailout programme by the IMF.
It is reported that such mounting debt payments pressure presumably requires extraordinary efforts to address the country’s chronic issues undermining exports and foreign direct investment (FDI) but it is mentioned that no major incremental inflows are projected for the next fiscal year. The projections are that the exports may grow to $30.1 billion, $2 billion or 7.5% more than the revised estimates for this fiscal year, however the global trade forecast will impact Pakistan’s export demand and it is expected that exports in goods will be contained to around $28 billion this year. Compared to the budget target of $38 billion, there is a dip of $10 billion, a sum that is compensated by increasing borrowings or containing the imports. As far as exports are concerned it is mentioned that sluggish foreign demand and domestic supply issues following the floods-induced destruction of exportable crops are responsible for the weak export performance. On the imports side it is projected that imports may grow to $60.5 billion next year showing an increase of $5 billion or 9%. The projected trade deficit for next year is $30.4 billion – planned to be plugged through remittances. Pressure on the import bill increased during 2022 when the economy grew by about 6% on the back of consumption. To ease the pressure of import bills and to contain CAD at a sustainable level, the government stopped imports through regulatory and administrative measures and resultantly imports are on a declining trend, estimated at $55.5 billion.
The projected remittances are shown at $30.9 billion in 2024 up by $1.4 billion or 4.7% against the revised estimates of this fiscal year. It is appropriate to mention that during the first eight months of the fiscal year, remittances posted a negative growth of nearly 11% to $18 billion, reflecting a widening gap between the interbank and open market exchange rates. There are hardly any chances for any improvement in low ratios of investment and savings as a percentage of the GDP as for the current year the investment-to-GDP ratio had been targeted at 14.7% but the revised estimates show that the ratio might touch 14%, missing the target again compelling the revised target to be projected at just 14.2 per cent. TW
Asrar Raouf is a former civil servant