ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and the Pakistani authorities have reached a staff-level agreement on the first review under the nine-month $3 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA).
The agreement is subject to approval by the IMF’s Executive Board. Upon approval, Pakistan will have access to SDR 528 million (around US$700 million), bringing total disbursements under the program to almost US$1.9 billion.
The Fund issued a statement while saying that the agreement supports the authorities’ commitment to advance the planned fiscal consolidation, accelerate cost-reducing reforms in the energy sector, complete the return to a market-determined exchange rate, and pursue state-owned enterprise and governance reforms to attract investment and support job creation, while continuing to strengthen social assistance.
An IMF team, led by Nathan Porter, visited Islamabad from November 2-15, 2023, to hold discussions on the first review of Pakistan’s economic program supported by an IMF SBA.
At the conclusion of the discussions, Porter issued the following statement: The IMF team has reached a staff-level agreement (SLA) with the Pakistani authorities on the first review of their stabilisation program supported by the IMF’s US$3 billion (SDR2,250 million) SBA.
“Anchored by the stabilisation policies under the SBA, a nascent recovery is under way, buoyed by international partners’ support and signs of improved confidence.
The steadfast execution of the FY24 budget, continued adjustment of energy prices, and renewed flows into the foreign exchange (FX) market have lessened fiscal and external pressures. Inflation is expected to decline over the coming months amid receding supply constraints and modest demand.
However, Pakistan remains susceptible to significant external risks, including the intensification of geopolitical tensions, resurgent commodity prices, and the further tightening in global financial conditions. Efforts to build resilience need to continue.
“In this regard, strengthening macroeconomic sustainability and laying the conditions for balanced growth are key priorities under the SBA.
The authorities’ policy priorities include continued fiscal consolidation to reduce public debt, while protecting development needs.
The authorities are determined to achieve a primary surplus of at least 0.4 percent of GDP in FY24, underpinned by federal and provincial government spending restraint and improved revenue performance supported, if necessary, by contingent measures.
The authorities are building capacity to expand the tax base and raise revenue mobilisation and are committed to improving the quality of public investment and spending.
For strengthening the social safety net to better protect the vulnerable, the authorities will continue the timely disbursements for social protection under BISP’s budget allocation, which are about a third higher than in FY23.
This will allow for the expansion of the Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCT) Kafaalat program to 9.3 million families this fiscal year, with an annual inflation adjustment of the stipend. Looking forward, the authorities are seeking to improve the UCT Kafaalat generosity level and to increase enrolment into the Conditional Cash Transfers programs supporting children’s education and health.
Further reforms to reduce costs in the energy sector and restore its viability, with the combined circular debt (CD) across power and gas sectors exceeding four percent of GDP, immediate action was critical.
While protecting vulnerable consumers, the authorities implemented power tariff adjustments that were pending since July 2023 and increased gas prices after a long time, effective November 1, 2023. While these increases were substantial, they were necessary to avoid further arrears that threatened the viability of these sectors and the provision of critical energy supplies.
The authorities are also moving to tackle cost-side pressures, including bringing private sector participation to Discos, institutionalising recovery and anti-theft actions, improving PPA terms, and reducing the incentives for captive power.
Returning to a market-determined exchange rate and rebuilding FX reserves; while inflows following increased regulatory and law enforcement helped normalise import and FX payments and rebuild reserves, the authorities recognise that the rupee must remain market-determined for sustainable alleviating external pressures and rebuild reserves.
To support this, they plan to strengthen the transparency and efficiency of the FX market and to refrain from administrative actions to influence the rupee.
Proactive monetary policy to lower inflation toward its target: With appropriately tight monetary policy, inflation should steadily decline and the authorities stand ready to respond resolutely if near-term price pressures re-emerge, including due to second-round effects on core inflation or renewed exchange rate depreciation.
Building financial sector resilience: Continued vigilance is warranted to safeguard the soundness of the banking system.
Priorities include addressing undercapitalised financial institutions, ensuring foreign exchange exposures within regulatory limits, and aligning bank resolution and crisis management frameworks with best practice.
Continuing state-owned enterprise and governance reforms to improve the business environment, investment, and job creation: Following passage of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) law, the authorities are moving forward with their SOE policy and implementation of their triage plan, including the privatisation of select SOEs.
High governance and transparency standards will apply to the management of assets under the ownership of the newly created Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and the operations of the SIFC. To further strengthen governance, the authorities will ensure public access to asset declarations from Cabinet members and a task force, with participation from independent experts, will complete a comprehensive review of the anticorruption framework.
Deepening cooperation with international partners: The authorities have accelerated the engagement with multilateral and official bilateral partners. Timely disbursement of committed external support remains critical to support the authorities’ policy and reform efforts.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023