The proposals made by the new Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin are valid, and it is time to seriously work towards achieving these goals. It is important to understand and acknowledge that stability in the finance ministry can have a profound and positive impact on the economy of the country. Politics is essential but it should not in any way impede the progress of the country and disrupt the economy. It is crucial to have national consensus amongst opposition and government on the way forward in our economic matters as so explicitly laid out in a road map proposed by the Finance Minister. Pakistan requires a comprehensive three-tier development plan to achieve minimum 6% growth, and the Planning Commission has done commendable work in this regard as we have also witnessed in the past.
The government’s proposal to widen tax net instead of overloading the already burdened businesses with additional taxes is something which should be welcomed, but we should also remember that people are wary of entering the tax net due to past harassments which is why the government should introduce steps that reinstate the confidence of the taxpayers in the taxation system.
The Finance Minister has identified three sectors that deserve special concessions – construction, agriculture and industry. For several years now the agriculture sector is not progressing in the right direction and requires reforms including introduction of new seeds and modernization of agriculture. It is my suggestion that whatever planning takes place should not only take into account the local food requirements of Pakistan but also consider exportable commodities. We are also importing agricultural products and have imported $5 billion worth of agricultural goods already in the current fiscal year. In my opinion, we also need to add it as another very important sector of Pakistan that has been neglected for a long time. This is one sector that can take Pakistan to new heights and we have an abundance of talent in this field.
The Pakistan China Economic Corridor (CPEC) is entering its second phase and it will now also include agriculture; we need to pay more attention to corporate farming and community farming. Right now, we have more supply than demand in the power sector and it is due to the fact that the growth rate has reduced from 5.8% to minus 0.4% and is currently at 1 ½ %. But this could change as the industrial zones established under the CPEC have not seen transfer of industries from China. Once that begins, the power demand will go up and we might even run short of supply. We should remain cognizant of this fact and should continue to add power and not become inactive under a false sense of security. The first industry from China, according to Chairman CPEC Authority, is already being established in Rashkai while industrialists are also interested in setting up industries in Dhabeji industrial zone. All this points to a major improvement in industrial activity and it will benefit us to be prepared and be ready to provide the required infrastructure.
Accountability was the cornerstone of the ruling party’s manifesto and it has stuck to it which is commendable, but over a period of time National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has become a deterrent to investment by local and foreign investors and has discouraged the bureaucracy to take ownership of projects. Things have reached a stage where even the State Bank of Pakistan in its proposed new laws seeks immunity from NAB. This places the government in a difficult position as it has to rely on public-private partnerships for major projects. A solution must be found and perhaps some amendments are required which should be supported by both the government and opposition in the interest of the country.
Pakistan’s offer of help to India in the latter’s hour of need was a timely and compassionate move that helped dispel many negative impressions about Pakistan and paved the way for better relations in future which are the need of the hour. Now more than ever, both countries should find ways and means to resolve their differences, and if required, put the most vital issues on the back burner while they normalize relations in the interest of their populations. We have to visualize a post-Covid scenario where the finances of both countries would require robust trade relations with their neighbours. In the same vein, we need to improve relations with Bangladesh and write a new chapter in regional relations between the three, leading to the progress and prosperity of our nations.
(The writer is the Founder & Chairman of Corporate Pakistan Group and Nutshell Group. He can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021