The post-war liberal international economic order has established by the United States with the spirit to promote capitalism, market economy and democracy. The capitalist system and market economy is organized by the multilateral institutions i.e. the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Both the international financial institutions are designed to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the globe.
Since its inception, the international lender is playing the significant role in the management of balance of payments difficulties of its member countries. The IMF provides economic assistance, loans and policy guide lines to develop and developing countries to deal with their financial policies and to stabilize the international monetary system. Pakistan is also a part of liberal international system and heavily dependent on IMF and the World Bank to balance the imbalance of payments.
The International Monetary Fund was conceived in July 1944 and came into existence in December 1945. It has 189 members and they contribute to a pool through a quota system. Countries suffering from a BoP crisis can draw from it, which is usually known as a bailout. The IMF mostly extend its helping hand to member countries in a case of BoP crisis. A country’s balance of payments tells you whether it save enough to pay for its imports, or whether the country produces enough economic output to pay for its growth.
The BoP also means that the country is importing more than its exports and heavily relies on foreign direct investment or borrows money to make up the difference. It is widely acknowledge that a BoP crisis occurs when a country is unable to pay for imports or repay its external debt. Generally BoP crisis negatively impacts on local currency through declining steeply in value, which consequently began to add the value of external payments.
The case of Pakistan is very interesting as the country has gone to IMF 21 times since its birth in August 1947. On December 8, 1958 the then military regime signed a one-year Standby Arrangement (SBA) but terminated it prematurely after nine months. Since then, Pakistan has availed 16 programs of IMF, yet the relationship has been far from smooth.
Pakistan has earned the reputation of a one-tranche nation – a veiled reference to the country’s track record of taking loans at critical times and then abandoning them prematurely, either because of a crisis of balance of payments or because further disbursements required tough policy actions.
At present, Pakistani authorities and the IMF team have reached a staff-level agreement on economic policies that could be supported by a 39-month Extended Fund Arrangement (EFF) for about US$6 billion. This agreement is subject to the IMF management approval and approval by the Executive Board, subject to the timely implementation of prior actions and confirmation of international partners’ financial commitments. Before, discussing the deal, it is necessary to probe that Would Pakistan be able to implement the structural reforms proposed by the IMF and would it be last bailout package for Pakistan from IMF?
The economy of the majority-Muslim nation with a population of over 200 million has slid deeper into crisis since Imran Khan took over as Prime Minister last year. Burgeoning fiscal and current account deficits and a dip in revenues from tax collection are at the heart of the crisis. The authorities recognizes the need to address these challenges, as well as to tackle the large informality in the economy, the low spending in human capital, and poverty. PM Imran Khan initially appeared reluctant to approach the IMF for aid, fearing that it would impose stringent conditions on government policy. Instead, Kahn approached friendly nations to help Pakistan and secured billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China. But with inflation climbing to over 8%, the rupee was losing a third of its value over the past year, and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of imports, which forced to turn to the IMF.
The IMF deal, with the austerity measures it will entail, will be a political blow to a Pakistani government that had promised to build out a new welfare state, The bailout announcement comes as discontent is already growing over measures Khan’s government has taken to fend off the crisis, including devaluing the rupee by some 30% since January 2018, sending inflation to five-years high. Khan came to power after winning a simple majority in last year’s parliamentary elections on promises to improve the country’s economy and provide jobs to people. But his critics say his government has so far not been able to honor his commitment to the masses. A government report published on Friday also noted that Pakistan’s growth rate is set to hit an eight-year low, with the country’s GDP rate likely to sink to 3.3% against a projected target of 6.2%. But some observers claim the IMF package will be beneficial to end the growing uncertainty and build investors’ confidence.
Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness, and a weak external position. This reflects the legacy of uneven and pro-cyclical economic policies in recent years aiming to boost growth, but at the expense of rising vulnerabilities and lingering structural and institutional weaknesses. The State Bank of Pakistan will focus on reducing inflation, which disproportionately affects the poor, and safeguarding the financial stability.
A market-determine exchange rate will help the functioning of the financial sector and contribute to a better resource allocation in the economy. The authorities are committed to strengthen the State Bank of Pakistan’s operational independence and mandate. The IMF sets tough conditions for bailout package for Pakistan. The IMF on Friday demanded the government to give State Bank authority to decide dollar rate and make National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) independent. After months of difficult negotiations, under the deal, Pakistan would give up the central bank control of the currency to adopt a market-based exchange rate and take measures to improve the functioning of loss-making state-owned firms as well as curtail subsidies, among other things.
The deal will put an end to uncertainty and improve Pakistan’s financial situation. Even though it might have some negative impacts in the form of a rise in inflation, it will produce positive results in the long run. Since the past couple of years, the economy of Pakistan is passing through critical phase. Previous governments of President Asif Zardari and PM Nawaz Sharif took ad hoc decisions to boost the economic growth through borrowing from internal and external lenders. However, they put huge burden on already collapsing economy through offering subsidy to various state owned enterprises and increased public spending. The Pakistan International Airlines, Steel Mills, Railway and WAPDA are burdening national economy. Pakistan’s inability to collect taxes from huge financial magnets and deep rooted indirect financial market is another cause of economic crisis.
The present government is on fire due to economic crisis and high inflation. But it needs to take concrete steps for structural reforms. First and foremost is to end the subsidy and increase the tax collection through widening the tax net. The tax collection and subsidy termination will add generous figures into national exchequer. The government also needs to privatize the dead horses of Pakistan; i.e. Pakistan Railway, PIA, Steel Mills, WAPDA and many others. In the meantime, the government should start a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign and recover looted money, which can ease the economic problem.
The government also can enlarge its revenue through inviting local and foreign investors in the Naya Pakistan Scheme. The minimum political influence and crackdown on black money mafia and Hawalla Hundi have potential to add billions of dollars in Pakistani economy. Last but not least, Pakistan require a brave and committed leadership to overcome its crumbling crisis. The successful implementation of structural reforms can turn present bailout package into lost, otherwise there will be many more to come.
*Authors are Graduate Students of International Relations, at Women University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Bagh Pakistan