| Updated at: 1923 PST, Wednesday, November 24, 2010|
KARACHI: Pakistan is cutting its development spending by almost half, squeezed by worsening economic conditions and International Monetary Fund demands, government sources say, imperiling growth prospects.
The US ally will cut its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) budget by 46 percent to 150 billion rupees ($1.75 billion) for fiscal year 2010/11, according to government sources who declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media.
"We had to cut the PSDP to reduce expenditure, especially after the floods," one source said.
Failure to make the cuts, however, could endanger relations with the IMF, which loaned Pakistan $11 billion in 2008 to rescue an economy in free fall, because it would not be able to meet deficit targets set as a condition of the loan.
Approximately $4 billion remains to be disbursed, and future loan programmes would depend on Pakistan's commitment to reforms.
The IMF and Pakistan agreed on a revised fiscal deficit target of 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2010/11 following the summer floods, compared with an original target of 4 percent of GDP.
To hit that target, the IMF told Pakistan to raise revenue. The country has been unable to do so, however, so it has chosen to cut spending.
The floods are estimated to have caused $9.7 billion in damages including vital infrastructure. The new cuts will further impact investment in roads, bridges and dams, which Pakistan needs to grow its economy.
"By cutting PSDP, we are not creating any assets for future generations and will have problems going forward," said a former advisor to the government.
LITTLE FAT TO CUT
But there's very little fat for Pakistan to cut thanks to a past failure at reform. Its debt servicing is $5.464 billion this year, and seeking to cut the defence budget in a country still obsessed with India as a threat is a non-starter.
"Pakistan is really stuck between two difficult choices, but first and foremost, the cut in PSDP is because there is pressure to meet a certain fiscal deficit target," another analyst said.
"And since PSDP is the one expense which is 'flexible', it is easy to cut down."
Pakistan's economic growth which averaged above 7 percent per year since 2000/01, declined to 5.8 percent in fiscal year 2007/08. Thanks to the floods, it is now expected to grow by just 2.5 percent in the year ending June 30.
Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid and must show its commitment to fiscal reforms such as raising electricity tariffs, implementing a reformed general sales tax (RGST) and restructuring its energy sector if it wants more assistance.