Friday, November 24, 2023

Pakistan's debt at 'unsustainable' levels, warns finance minister

"There is no good news on debt burden as multilateral institutions didn't permit restructuring of external, " Dr Shamshad Akhtar says

Dr Shamshad Akhtar addressing a SDPI conference in Islamabad. — X/@SDPIPakistan
Dr Shamshad Akhtar addressing a SDPI conference in Islamabad. — X/@SDPIPakistan  

  • Dr Shamshad Akhtar says economic revival package on the cards.
  • Says govt to restructure FBR to increase revenue to GDP ratio.
  • We are trying to bring a equitable taxation system, says minister.

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Minister for Finance Dr Shamshad Akhtar while admitting debt had reached “unsustainable” levels shared that the government is in talks with the provinces to shift responsibility for Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), hand over provincial PSDP projects and close down devolved departments for rationalising expenditures, reported The News on Friday.

“Pakistan’s public debt breached the limits of Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act since 2013-14 and it has reached unsustainable levels. There is no good news on the debt burden as multilateral institutions did not permit the restructuring of external debt. The G-20 had granted Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) during the Covid-19 pandemic. So far Pakistan has undertaken a debt arrangement with China of $2.4 billion till 2024-25,” she said while addressing an SDPI conference in Islamabad on Thursday.

Shamshad addressed all the macroeconomic issues confronting Pakistan and said they were moving towards a democratic transition, and an “economic revival package” was on the cards to achieve self-reliance and ensure integration of the economy with regional countries.

She warned that the debt restructuring talks should be dealt very carefully as it will have repercussions. However, she made it clear that Pakistan does not plan to delay repayments of external debt. The larger fiscal deficit pushed up the debt burden, so the country was forced to breach the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act since 2013-14.

On the domestic debt front, she mentioned the government was moving on the path of re-profiling to move from short-term debt to long-term bonds of 3 to 10 years to reduce the cost of borrowing. However, on external debt, she said options were limited as 44% of overall public debt was in the shape of foreign loans.

Dr Shamshad said the government would restructure the Federal Board of Revenue to increase the revenue-to-GDP ratio from 9 to 15% in the first phase.

“We are trying to place a fair and equitable taxation system,” she said and assured that the tax base would be broadened. The customs policy and operation would be separated with the objective of facilitating trade and eradicate smuggling.

The finance czar said that the GDP growth rate would hover around 2% to 3% in the ongoing fiscal year. She added that the business and investors' confidence had been restored.

Quoting a WB report, she said Pakistan’s size of economy could touch $2 trillion if the macroeconomic stability was ensured till 2047 from existing levels of $300 billion.

The Viability Gap Fund (VGF) would be established whereby a public-private partnership would be developed to execute development projects with the participation of the private sector. All departments devolved under the 18th Amendment would be abolished at the federal level.