Pakistan's Finance Minister Resigns Post

Pakistan's finance minister Mr. Shaukat Tarin has resigned. Tarin is an accomplished banker and a protege of former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. He became Pakistan's finance minister in October 2008 when the nation's economy was on the brink of collapse. He led the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a 23-month, US $7.6 billion bailout package that boosted Pakistan's foreign-exchange reserves and helped avert a sovereign default.

There have been rumors that the ruling PPP politicians, particularly President Zardari and his inner circle, have ignored Tarin's key recommendations to address the acute power shortages in the country. Zardari's insistence on pushing rental power projects, rather than fix the huge circular debt problem in the energy sector first, specially frustrated the outgoing finance chief, when he reportedly threatened to quit last year.

In spite of the obstacles Tarin faced in his job, he has managed to stabilize the economy. International credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor both raised Pakistan's credit rating and outlook last year as reported by Bloomberg News.

S&P increased its rating on Pakistan’s long-term sovereign debt to B- from CCC+, six levels below investment grade and the same ranking as the Ukraine and Argentina. The outlook was maintained as stable.

“The upgrade reflects Pakistan’s improved external liquidity position, coupled with its successes in implementing corrective policy measures to rectify an unsustainable fiscal trajectory,” S&P said in a statement. “A narrowing current account deficit, helped by buoyant remittance inflows, and successive disbursals of the IMF and other multilateral loans have reduced the risk of near-term external payment difficulties for Pakistan,” S&P added in its statement last year.

Tarin recently said that Pakistan's economy may grow by at least 3.4%--faster than previously estimated--driven by a likely rebound in its manufacturing sector.

"The economy has started showing signs of recovery, but more work is needed on structural reforms," Tarin was reported as saying by the media.

The manufacturing sector, which makes up 25% of GDP, is now forecast to expand 5.5% this fiscal year ending in June, 2010, after having contracted by a similar margin last year, Tarin said. However, federal finances will be strained due to higher military expenditure and subsidies on electricity, he added.

As a result of investor confidence in Mr. Tarin's economic leadership, Pakistan's KSE-100 stock index surged 55% in 2009 in US dollar terms and 65% in rupee terms, in a year that also saw the South Asian nation wracked by increased violence and its state institutions described by various media talking heads as being on the verge of collapse.

Media reports have recently quoted Mr. Tarin as saying the government plans to meet investors in March to raise between $500 million and $1 billion in the last quarter of the current fiscal year, ending on June 30.

Here's the latest IMF assessment of Pakistan's economy on Tarin's watch, as reported by a private news channel Geo TV:

Pakistan’s economic growth has started recovering despite security and energy challenges and the country met almost all targets under the International Monetary Fund program, the global financial institution said Tuesday.

“Pakistan’s program is progressing well,” the Fund said in a statement following “constructive discussions” with Pakistani officials focusing on Pakistan’s recent economic performance, the outlook for the rest of the fiscal year.

Adnan Mazarei, who met with the Pakistani officials in Dubai over the past week to initiate discussions on the fourth review under Pakistan’s Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), noted that Islamabad observed all quantitative performance criteria for end-December 2009, except for the budget deficit target, which was exceeded by a small margin.

Listing positive trends Pakistan registered in recent months, the Fund said the exchange rate has remained stable at Rs. 84–85 per U.S. dollar and the international reserves position has strengthened (the banking system’s gross foreign exchange reserves, including the State Bank and commercial banks, reached US$14.3 billion in mid-February, of this total the State Bank held US$10.5 billion).

The early signs of recovery in some sectors and the improved external position are encouraging, although there are risks and challenges to Pakistan’s economic program.

“Economic growth in Pakistan is starting to recover; large-scale manufacturing output has started to increase, the improvement in the global economy has helped manufacturing exports, and private sector credit growth has picked up somewhat as businesses rebuild their working capital.”

The IMF’s package for Pakistan - approved in November 2008-has been extended to $11.3 billion.

Looking ahead, the IMF statement said, a resumption of higher growth is needed to raise living standards and will require improvements in the business climate to stimulate higher investment by local and foreign investors.

The financial institution also noted that the “resolve of the Pakistani authorities to implement their stabilization and reform program is a key factor in deepening macroeconomic stabilization, despite the risks associated with internal security and uncertainty as to the pace of global economic recovery.”

Emphasizing the need for stepped up donors support for the key anti-terror partner of the international community, the Fund said early disbursement of donor financing remains crucial to support Pakistan’s stabilization and reform efforts and laying the basis for a high and sustainable growth.

The IMF mission staff will prepare a report on the fourth review under Pakistan’s SBA that is scheduled for consideration by the IMF Executive Board in late March.


Pakistan should be able to attract financing from abroad "to the extent that they can demonstrate that there has been progress on these three fronts: growth; stand-alone external liquidity; and quality and size of budgetary revenues," Aninda Mitra, a vice president at Moody's, told the Wall Street Journal.

Mitra said if Pakistan's economic growth could return to a range of around 4%-5% "sooner than later without generating macroeconomic imbalances or inflationary pressure, that will be a pretty notable outcome."

It is also important for Pakistan to be able to enjoy sufficient external liquidity without depending on further contingent support from external official sources and for it to manage long-term budgetary pressures, he said.

Financial markets appeared to take news of Mr. Tarin's departure in stride.

Pakistan's dollar-denominated bonds and the costs of insuring against a default or restructuring of its debt were steady Wednesday. Its five-year credit default swap was last quoted at 1,112 basis points, or hundredths of a percentage point, on the bid side while its bonds were hardly traded. With holders of Pakistan's bonds mostly buy-and-hold investors, and given the small size of outstanding issues, trading volume tends to be relatively low.

Wall Street Journal says Pakistan's fiscal improvement has stalled recently mainly due to unforeseen factors such as the delays in the receipt of pledged aid from friendly countries as well as the conflict in the northwestern part of the country and resulting delay in military reimbursement from the U.S.

"The government has had to issue debt to finance such shortfalls," Mr. Mitra said. "We don't think that these are permanent or deep setbacks for the fiscal situation regardless of the transition" of leadership at the finance ministry, he added.

Media reports indicate front-runners to succeed Tarin include Nasim Beg, CEO of Arif Habib Investments Ltd.; Planning Minister Makhdoom Shahab-ud-Din; and Junior Minister for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, who presented the 2009-10 budget in parliament last year.

Although IMF is closely watching Pakistan's economic management for now, I believe it is still very important for the next finance minister to be persuasive, and display sufficient independence from the political leadership in managing the nation's economy as a professional.

Related Links:

US Fears Aid Will Feed Graft in Pakistan

Pakistan Swallows IMF's Bitter Medicine

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan has appointed Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, a Musharraf-era minister, as the new finance chief to fill the vacancy left by Tarin's resignation. Here's a Wall Street Journal report on it:

The post of finance minister has been vacant since Shaukat Tarin, a former Citibank executive who was a vocal critic of government corruption, resigned three weeks ago citing personal reasons. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has overseen the ministry in the interim.

Mr. Tarin's surprise departure and delays in appointing a successor raised concerns at a time when Pakistan's financial situation remains fragile.

The appointment of Mr. Shaikh, who is viewed as having wide-ranging political and business experience, could help to assuage those worries, analysts said. "He is noncontroversial and highly regarded in the international financial agencies," said Ashfaq Hasan Khan, a former senior finance ministry official who teaches at National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad.

The 55-year-old Mr. Shaikh, a U.S.-trained economist who served as privatization minister in former President Pervez Musharraf's military-led government, is expected to take office next week, a senior finance ministry official said.

In the 1990s, Mr. Shaikh served as country head of the World Bank's operations in Saudi Arabia. He comes from an influential family of politiciansfrom the southern province of Sindh, though he isn't a member of any political party. He will hold the official title of Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance because he isn't a member of parliament. The post has the same authority as finance minister.

"My main priority will be on growth and sound financial management," Mr. Shaikh said in a telephone interview. "I will concentrate on creating an environment that could attract private investment."

Mr. Shaikh is a partner in New Silk Route Partners, a private-equity firm that invests in Asia and the Middle East.

"He is experienced and strong on delivery. His appointment will give a lot of confidence to the stock market and to investors," said Muddassar Malik, chief executive of BMA Capital Funds, a Karachi-based asset-management company.

The International Monetary Fund has earmarked $11.3 billion in emergency loans for Pakistan since November 2008 when Islamabad faced a balance-of-payments crisis amid an al Qaeda-linkedIslamist insurgency that deterred investors.

To get regular disbursements of this money, Pakistan has to meet goals such as reducing its budget deficit from a current 5.1% of gross domestic product, reining in runaway inflation and increasing tax collection.

A major challenge for Mr. Shaikh will be energizing the country's struggling economy. He will also be under pressure to find money to help build much-needed infrastructure, such as power plants.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a report from The News about Pakistan's growing debt.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
KARACHI: Pakistan’s debt sustainability indicators deteriorated in July-Dec 2009 as external debt and liabilities were up, while foreign exchange earnings remained stagnant and the economy slowed down, the SBP said in its report.

The total external debt as percentage of GDP as well as debt servicing to export earnings ratio worsened during the period under review, the bank said. The stock of external debt and liabilities increased by $4.7 billion to reach $55.8 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year, it said.

External debt servicing was $2.648 billion by end of Dec 2009, up 9.7 per cent from the same period of the previous year, as the country repaid bilateral creditors, multilateral donors and private non-guaranteed debt. Yet, almost 25 per cent the increase in external debt and liabilities was due to depreciation of the US dollar against major currencies, the SBP in its report said.


With $180 billion GDP, Pakistan's debt to gdp ratio is about about 30%.

While I agree that it can become a serious problem if not properly tackled, I also think it can be managed if the economy starts to grow again soon. That's the real challenge for Pakistan right now.
Riaz Haq said…
Here is an Op Ed by Shaukat Tarin, Pakistan's fomer finance minister published in Daily Times:

Pakistan’s perennial structural weakness has been its abysmally low – and declining – tax collection. Even Pakistan’s most powerful government of recent times, that of Pervez Musharraf, left in its wake a tax-to-GDP ratio of less than 10 percent after over eight years in unbridled power. This is amongst the lowest tax collection ratios in the world.

Leaving total collection aside, the composition of tax receipts in Pakistan depicts huge inequity. Direct tax collection constitutes less than 3.5 percent of GDP, with wide ranging exemptions to powerful segments of society coupled with governance issues at FBR. The bulk of the tax receipts are collected in the form of sales tax. Far from being progressive, the taxation regime is highly regressive, meaning that the poor and less affluent are taxed more heavily as a proportion of their income than the rich.

The other weak (rather, missing) link in public finances is the lack of fiscal effort by the provinces. With some of the largest segments of economic activity such as agriculture, real estate, and services in the provincial domain with regards to taxation, it is baffling that provincial tax receipts total an abysmal 0.7 percent of GDP.

At the heart of it, these issues are related to governance. This state of affairs is a manifestation of a broader challenge that Pakistan has grappled with virtually since independence – the shifting of the burden of responsibility by a small, self-serving and venal elite to the rest of the population.

The flip side of not collecting taxes, and not being able to manage expenditures, is debt. This was never more evident than in early 2008 when a new government took office after elections. It inherited a tax-to-GDP ratio of less than 10 percent, a fiscal deficit of nearly 8 percent of GDP, and a current account deficit of over $14 billion (a record 8.5 percent of GDP). Despite receiving generous assistance from the international community year after year, as reflected in the country’s total external debt rising from $35 billion to $46 billion between 2005 and 2008 (over and above budgetary grants), the previous administration mind-bogglingly resorted to printing currency to the tune of over Rs 700 billion in two years. This factor was a major contributor to the spiral of inflation that was set in motion from 2007 onwards.

The nexus between not collecting taxes and having to borrow cannot be over-emphasised. To place this in context, consider the following: if Pakistan’s tax to GDP ratio had been increased to a modest 13 percent in 2005 when the global as well as domestic economic conditions were most favourable, and kept stable since, Pakistan’s public debt would have been almost 15 percent of GDP lower (at around 44 percent of GDP, instead of close to 60 percent currently). Put differently, since 2005, the government has cumulatively borrowed over Rs 1,600 billion largely on account of not being able or willing to collect taxes.

The net effect of this state of affairs was high inflation, pressure on FX reserves, a decline in the value of the rupee, and an erosion of market and investor confidence. This was a perfect recipe for tipping the country into a full-blown macroeconomic crisis, which came with full force in 2008. To stabilise the country’s fast depleting reserves, it is not surprising that the government had to resort to borrowing from the IMF in November 2008.

Hence, the primary factors behind the increase in public debt over the past three years include recourse to the IMF, a large adjustment in the value of the rupee after several years of the currency being kept artificially stable, and a large decline in grants and other non-debt creating inflows such as FDI after 2007.
Riaz Haq said…
Express Tribune reports easing of circular debt in Pakistan:

The government has paid Rs120 billion overdue electricity subsidies to improve the financial condition of power companies, leaving it with the option of either letting the budget deficit slip to 6.3 per cent or playing with the figures to restrict it to 5.5 per cent.

The payments would partially improve the balance sheet of the power sector that has been crippled by the government’s inability to pay price differential claims. The arrears that have increased to Rs288 billion are one of the main reasons for the massive power shortfall, recorded at 7,200 megawatts on Tuesday, as companies are not running at optimum capacity. The capital injection will enable power companies to purchase fuel for electricity generation.

The payments have been made to the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), Pakistan State Oil, oil refineries, power generation and distribution companies. However, these will widen the budget deficit by another 0.7 per cent of national income, torpedoing the revised fiscal framework.

The government that has been struggling to restrict the budget deficit to Rs941 billion or 5.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now facing a situation whereby the gap may swell to Rs1,078 billion or 6.3 per cent.

Finance ministry officials said so far the ministry was reluctant to pay its dues because of the negative implication for the budget deficit – the gap between national income and spending. Officials added that the government paid Rs98 billion on Wednesday while the remaining Rs22 billion would be released today (Thursday).

Sources said the finance ministry was considering deferring payment of other subsidies like those for agriculture and fertilisers to the next financial year. There is an option to even defer some of the electricity subsidies of this fiscal year.

Any attempt to play with the figures may invite the International Monetary Fund’s wrath that in the past slapped penalties after noting tempering with budget figures.

According to the Budget Strategy Paper 2011-12, the government will pay Rs186 billion electricity subsidies by June-end. The accumulative power subsidy for this year and the previous two years amounts to Rs306 billion. The finance secretary was not available to comment on the issue.

The circular debt still stands at Rs168 billion even after Rs120 billion payments. The major factor for the debt now is the refusal of provinces to pay their dues to Pepco. The four provinces, Fata and AJK owe Rs106 billion to Pepco, according to official documents. Of this amount, a major chunk of Rs76 billion is due to be paid by the provinces. Punjab owes Rs9 billion whereas Sindh owes Rs37 billion.

The ongoing massive power shortage is partly because of oil and gas shortages and partly because of inefficient power plants. Although the government has paid a handsome amount, there is still a big question mark on the sustainability of the power sector due to resistance to reforms. The government is not ready to completely disband Pepco and it is also not amending the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority Act that is necessary to ensure full power tariff recovery.

Karachi Electric Supply Company’s (KESC) tariff structure is another source of concern. This year alone, the federal government will pay Rs40 billion subsidies to KESC on account of price differential.

The other major factor is longstanding receivables from private consumers. All the distribution companies are unable to recover Rs69.7 billion from private consumers which are overdue from two months to three years, according to the documents.
Riaz Haq said…
Here are some excerpts of an interesting Op Ed in The Nation newspaper by former finance minister Shaukat Tarin:

Despite all the gloomy news and events that has started to define Pakistan, our national resilience remains intact. However, the question that is one every one’s mind is for how long?

Let’s start with the positives (yes there are always some!) of Present Day Pakistan;

• CP Inflation while high is showing signs of becoming range bound;

• Foreign Remittances continue to rise (the PRI scheme launched under my stewardship has borne fruit with remittances expected to cross the $l2b annual mark this year);

• We have finally started to debate/define our role in the devastating ‘War on Terror” and the end game of Afghan conflict has started to be played out.

• Pakistan’s banking system remains insulated from the Western banking meltdown.

• Booming Agrarian economy, despite devastating floods; with corporate sector moving into dairy, live-stock and value added processing.

• While most of the rest of the world is ageing our population is getting younger

• Democracy is still holding on!

However, we are far from the country we all aspire. The negative list (so to speak) is long, makes a somber reading, but largely includes:

• Lack of governance and transparency (lack of meritocracy).

• Unrelenting and crippling energy shortages.

• Lack of Scale/infrastructure to support GDP growth.

• Security and Law and order situation (Perception twice as worse as reality with the reality bad enough especially in Karachi and Quetta)

• Weak Social Sector reforms/indicators.

• Increasing friction amongst state institutions.

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... the economic and social sector performance of Pakistan has also been severely impacted by the following:

1) Inability of the successive governments to balance their budgets by increasing tax to GDP ratio, reducing non-development expenses and losses of the Public sector enterprises.

2) Negligible expenditures on education and health sectors to develop our most important asset i.e. human resource.

3) Creating a competitive environment of high economic growth by focusing on the productive sectors of our economy such as agriculture and manufacturing, and

4) Focusing on infrastructure and energy sectors to facilitate the economic growth.

Whereas, we have seen efforts in the past to address these weaknesses they have been at best weak and far between.

The present economic scenario is again infected by the same weaknesses i.e. large fiscal deficits, low expenditure on education and health, chronic electricity and energy shortages, lack of focus on the productive sectors resulting in high inflation, high unemployment and low economic growth. We all want a Pakistan which is economically prosperous, institutionally resilient and strategically oriented. In essence, we want to make Pakistan an economic welfare state. In my view, a key pre-requisite for an Economic Welfare State is to ensure that a country experiences equitable and sustainable growth for a prolonged period of time. Look at the examples of India and China where uninterrupted economic growth has changes the whole value proposition of these countries.
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To reduce our fiscal deficit we will have to increase our taxes. As I have said it many a times, all incomes will have to pay taxes and there cannot be any sacred cows. Agriculturists will have to pay their taxes and so should the retailers, real-estate developers stock-market and all professionals. Our tax to GDP is woefully inadequate at 9pc, where Sri Lanka is 17pc, India 19pc, China 21pc and Turkey 33pc. Before I left the government, there was a tax plan in place, which needs to be implemented. It will require a strong political will.....


http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/business/25-Nov-2012/economic-challenges-for-pakistan-going-into-2013

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