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Back to square one: NA body refers election funds issue to cabinet

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  • SBP says funds allocated but don’t have authority to release.
  • “If NA allows funds can be released to ECP,” state minister says.
  • Law minister says this issue will be resolved today.

ISLAMABAD: After a heated debate over the Supreme Court’s order to the central bank directing it to release the funds directly to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue on Monday decided to refer the issue to the cabinet as the deadline to release Rs21 billion ends today.

The Supreme Court on April 14 directed the central bank to release funds worth Rs21 billion for elections in Punjab and send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry by Monday (April 17).

A special meeting of the NA panel was summoned today as the deadline given to the SBP for releasing funds to the electoral body ends today.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar, conducted an in-chamber hearing last week regarding the non-implementation of its April 4 order to the federal government to release the funds and directed the central bank to release funds.

The directives came after the electoral body submitted a report informing the apex court that the Ministry of Finance has failed to release funds as ordered by the three-member bench on April 4.

At the outset of the meeting today, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Acting Governor Sima Kamil informed the NA panel the regulator has allocated Rs21 billion for the ECP to conduct polls in Punjab on the directives of the Supreme Court, however, it does not have the authority to release funds directly.

Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar informed the panel that the Ministry of Finance had already said that it does not have sufficient funds to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.

“Spending twice on elections is not in the country’s interest”, the law minister said, adding that the apex court had directed the central bank to arrange the funds.

He maintained that the trustees of government funds are elected representatives of the people.

It should be noted that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also summoned by the NA body, however, he didn’t attend the meeting today as he was in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, according to sources.

PML-N leader Barjees Tahir added that if the central bank releases funds directly to the electoral body it will be against the law.

“How can the Supreme Court direct the SBP to release funds?” Tahir questioned, adding that if elections are held in Punjab separately it will affect the results of the general elections of the other three provinces later.

The central bank’s acting governor, addressing the criticism it received for allocating the funds, explained to the lawmakers that by allocating the funds the amount will remain in the account.

She further added that they appeared before the Supreme Court on its directive and informed the apex court that the central bank can allocate funds; however, it cannot release the funds.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Finance and Revenue Aisha Ghaus Pasha emphasised that the SBP cannot spend money without the permission of the parliament.

“If the National Assembly allows funds can be released [to the ECP],” she said, clarifying that even the Finance Division cannot spend without seeking permission from the cabinet and the lower house.

Meanwhile, the law minister said that this issue will be resolved today as cabinet and National Assembly sessions are also scheduled.

It should be noted that the summary will also be presented in the National Assembly after the approval of the cabinet. 

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APCC to meet today to decide budget outlay, targets

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  • APCC will meet at the Ministry of Planning today.
  • Govt considering allocation for Diamer Basha Dam in budget.
  • Total PSDP size would be proposed at Rs1,000bn.

ISLAMABAD: The Annual Plan Coordination Committee (APCC) is likely to recommend around Rs900-1,000 billion macroeconomic framework and size of the federal development outlay for the upcoming budget for the next fiscal year 2023-24, The News reported Friday.

In the federal budget, against the revised estimates of Rs111 billion in the outgoing financial year, the government is all set to recommend a Rs90 billion proposed allocation for the controversial Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme (SAP) for parliamentarians.

Now the arrangements are underway for further jacking up the allocation of the SDG Achievement Programme from Rs111 billion to Rs116 billion for the outgoing fiscal year.

Well-placed sources in the Cabinet Division told The News that parliamentarians belonging to Balochistan and Sindh provinces largely presented flood-related schemes under the SDG Achievement Programme in the current fiscal year. 

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) were also providing $3 billion in loans for flood-related schemes in the aftermath of the severe floods, so at least there should be some kind of mechanism to avoid overlapping at the cost of the national exchequer.

There were 50 to 60% of small development schemes in Sindh and Balochistan related to floods in the outgoing financial year.

There are reports that one political party, which is one of the major allies of the ruling coalition at the federal level, placed a condition that all funds on behalf of their parliamentarians should be handed over to the political leader, who would disburse their share to each parliamentarian belonging to the party. 

All major allies of the Pakistan Democratic Movement-led government are beneficiaries of this SAP programme, as its funding has gone up from Rs68 billion at the initial level to Rs116 billion in the ongoing financial year.

The APCC, which is scheduled to meet in the Ministry of Planning today (Friday), will consider approval of the macroeconomic framework, including a real GDP growth rate of 3.5% and CPI-based inflation at 21% for the upcoming budget 2023-24.

According to the working paper prepared by the Ministry of Planning on Thursday, the Ministry of Finance gave an indicative budget ceiling for the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) to the tune of Rs700 billion for the next budget for 2023-24 but the Minister for Planning hoped that it would be jacked up to Rs800 billion under the directives of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

Now that the government has proposed an allocation of Rs200 billion for the Viability Gap Fund (VGF) executed through public-private partnerships (PPP), the total PSDP size would be proposed at Rs1,000 billion at the federal level for the next financial year. 

The share of the National Highway Authority (NHA) in the proposed PSDP would be reduced, ranging from Rs90 billion to Rs100 billion for the next budget, mainly because the NHA remained unable to utilise the major chunk of the total allocated amount in the ongoing financial year. 

The government is all set to propose allocations for flood mitigation and reconstruction efforts in the coming financial year. The government is also considering making an allocation for the Diamer Basha Dam in the coming budget for 2023-24.

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Is Pakistan launching digital currency?

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KARACHI: After making impressive progress in digital banking, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is planning to launch a digital currency in the future, The News reported Friday.

Central Bank’s Digital Financial Services Group Additional Director Shoukat Bizinjo said that a large number of central banks around the world, including Pakistan’s, are studying CBBCs (callable bull/bear contracts) in order to launch digital currency in their respective countries.

Bizinjo — while speaking at the 16th international conference on Mobile Commerce 2023 —  said: “Pakistan’s central bank is reviewing and consulting with other central banks in this regard (CBBCs and digital currency).” 

They are leveraged investments that track the performance of the underlying assets without requiring investors to pay the full price required to own the actual assets. Bizinjo said that the SBP is also in consultation with local industrial players to introduce digital currency.

He said that Electronic Money Institutions (EMIs) have made remarkable progress in e-banking through the launch of e-money wallets for consumers and merchants, and other digital payment instruments such as prepaid cards and contactless payment instruments.

Currently, the country has four live commercial EMIs, including NayaPak, Finja, CMPECC, and Sada Tech Pakistan. EMIs have an outstanding e-money balance of Rs2 billion, managing 1.6 million e-money wallets and 2.4 million payment cards as of March 31, 2023.

There are around 12 EMIs at different stages of acquiring licenses from the central bank. There are also dozens of companies that are in constant talks with the SBP to become EMIs. 

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Pakistan rules out Plan B rumours in case of IMF programme failure

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  • Budgetary framework has been shared with IMF, says minister.
  • Dr Pasha says IMF did not accept external financing gap of $4.5bn.
  • Adds there is a trust deficit because of PTI govt.

ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Finance Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha has ruled out any possibility of contemplating upon any other option — Plan B — in case Pakistan fails to woo the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revive the stalled loan programme, The News reported Friday.

“Let me say with clarity there were no other options that we are contemplating upon under Plan B in case of no revival of the Fund programme as the government was committed to reviving the IMF programme by completing the pending ninth review,” she said.

During a briefing of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance at the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) headquarters, MNA Ali Pervez Malik questioned Dr Pasha about Plan B in case of failure to revive the IMF programme and said that there was talk about a dollar amnesty scheme to improve dollar liquidity.

The minister further revealed that the Fund did not accept the external financing gap of $4.5 billion assessed by Pakistan. 

Dr Pasha disclosed that the IMF was still sticking to its projection of a financing gap of $6 billion for the ongoing financial year against Islamabad’s assessment of $4.5 billion on which assurances extended to the IMF by multilateral as well as bilateral creditors.

She went on to say that the government has shared the budgetary framework for the next fiscal year to satisfy the IMF. However, Pakistan has been waiting for the IMF’s response to share its recent steps to bridge the gap between interbank and open market rates on exchange rates, and assurances on external financing gaps. 

It should be noted that a broader agreement on these three major conditions could only pave the way for striking a staff-level agreement.

The minister clarified that the sharing of budgetary numbers is not the part of ninth review as it will be part of the 10th review but Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has decided to share the numbers for the revival of the Fund programme.

A senior official of the State Bank of Pakistan informed the NA panel that the permission granted for credit cards from exchange companies to interbank rate would require $70 million to $100 million on average on a monthly basis and recommended the FBR for raising taxes on transactions through credit cards in foreign exchange in the upcoming budget to compress demands for increased foreign exchange requirements.

Dr Pasha said that there was a trust deficit, not because of the incumbent regime, but blamed the last PTI-led government for breaching the IMF agreement by doling out un-targeted fuel and electricity subsidies just before leaving the government in the last financial year. 

She said that Saudi Arabia had granted assurances of $2 billion in additional deposits, while $1 billion have been committed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

The World Bank committed $450 million through the RISE-II programme loan and $250 million through Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). 

The remaining are expected through Geneva pledges in the aftermath of flood assistance. 

Pakistan, she said, secured financing assurances of $4.5 billion. Initially, it was planned that out of $6 billion, the government would get assurances on $3 billion before signing the staff-level agreement. She said that the government paid back $3 billion to commercial banks with the understanding that it would get re-financed these loans once the SLA is done. 

“We also expect that after the revival of the IMF programme, other avenues of securing dollars will also open up” she added.

The ongoing IMF programme is going to expire on June 30 therefore the time is limited for completion of the pending 9th review under the $6.5 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF). 

If the staff-level agreement is reached by evolving a broader consensus on three contentious issues including external financing, budgetary framework, and sticking to the free market exchange rate then the programme will be revived otherwise the programme will be met with failure. 

However, the sources said that Pakistan would be left with no other option but to seek another IMF programme next fiscal year keeping in view debt external repayments of $25 billion. 

It does not include the current account deficit and if it is projected in the range of $7-8 billion for the next fiscal year then the total external financing requirements will be stretched up to $32-33 billion in 2023-24.

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