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EDITORIAL: The secrecy surrounding the latest deal with the IMF has ignited fresh concerns. In a statement issued on Monday, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman took the ruling PTI to task over keeping the terms of the agreement “shrouded in opacity and uncertainty”. Parliament, she said, was kept in the dark about the “scale and harsh magnitude of the prior conditions that the government has agreed to with the IMF.” That lack of adequate information can easily give way to misinterpretations is manifest in what the senator had to say about the purported conditionality pertaining to the central bank. “According to the new conditions”, she averred, “the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) will report to the IMF headquarters now, instead of the Cabinet or the Parliament of Pakistan”, adding that “this re-colonisation of Pakistan is unacceptable to us.” It’s a pretty severe judgement. According to those familiar with the goings-on, giving greater autonomy to the SBP is on the cards, arguing that doing so would be in accordance with the best practices in some other countries. The naysayers on the other hand contend that what works in developed economies is unsuitable to our conditions – all the more reason that the proposed reform should be put before Parliament for proper debate and discussion.

But even the government’s allies have not been taken into confidence regarding two crucial bills: grant of autonomy to the SBP and withdrawal of sales tax exemptions worth Rs 330 billion. They have expressed displeasure, once again, for not being consulted. PML-Q Secretary General Kamil Ali Agha told this newspaper he had not seen the draft of bills and that when they are shared with his party only then would it be decided what to do with them. Likewise, MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said his party would decide about these proposed bills once their contents are shared with and that “right now, we have no idea what these bills are all about.” These parties obviously need to know the details of the proposed legislation for which they are to bear responsibility. The ruling PTI has not drawn any lesson from its recent tiff with its coalition partners over non-inclusion in important decision-making even as it relies on their support for smooth sailing of its legislative business in the National Assembly. They may yet fall in with the government plan, though not without giving it hard time. The reason it has decided to proceed with such important pieces of legislation in a hush-hush manner seems to be fear of a backlash. Going by its track record this government may have preferred to implement those bills in the form of presidential ordinances; reports, however, suggest that was unacceptable to the IMF.

It needs to be acknowledged that the tendency to withhold information about contents of agreements with the IMF has been common to all previous governments as well. Nonetheless, considering that maintaining transparency in the functioning of all institutions has been a constant theme in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s utterances, his government was expected to do better than them. By following suit, it can get the job done but cause a dent in its holier-than-thou deportment.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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