Pakistan plans spending surge to create jobs as COVID cases rise

Pakistan’s economy needs to grow by 5% next year, new Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin tells Bloomberg.

With 110 million youth, targeting a five percent economic growth rate is the 'bare minimum' the country needs, according to Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin [File: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg]
With 110 million youth, targeting a five percent economic growth rate is the 'bare minimum' the country needs, according to Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin [File: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg]

Pakistan plans to boost spending on large infrastructure projects by as much as 40% to create jobs and foster productivity in an economy crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said.

The federal government will earmark as much as 900 billion rupees ($6 billion) for development expenditure in the year beginning July, Tarin, who took office last month, said in an interview in Islamabad. The economy needs to expand by 5% next year, he said.

“That’s the bare minimum we need for a country this size,” said Tarin, who is due to present a new budget next month for the world’s fifth most-populous nation. “There are almost 110 million youth.”

Pakistan Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin [Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg]

Tarin, a former banker, was appointed last month as the fourth finance minister since Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government took power in 2018. He also served in the role between 2008 and 2010, helping the nation avoid default by securing a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. He comes into office as Pakistan faces a third wave of coronavirus cases, prompting authorities to order a week-long shutdown that may weigh on economic activity and hurt incomes.

Tarin’s plan will reverse his predecessor’s decision to lower spending to narrow the budget deficit, which he estimates to be a little above 7% of gross domestic product in the current fiscal year through June, against 8.1% in the previous year. Tarin said he expects the deficit in the next fiscal to be 1 or 1.5 percentage points lower.

While balancing the budget will be key for Pakistan’s current $6 billion loan program with the IMF, the new finance minister is negotiating with the organization for more wriggle room to support economic growth.

The government’s GDP target for next year is a percentage point higher than the IMF’s 4% projection, and Tarin is seeking to boost growth to 6% in the year after. The Washington-based lender sees the economy expanding 1.5% in the current fiscal period after a rare contraction last year.

“We need 2 million jobs every year,” he said. “If we do not go into growth mode, we will have a major crisis on the streets.”

The central bank, which has cut interest rates to a three-year low to support the economy, has been on pause mode for a while and has left some of the heavy lifting to the government.

“First we have to get more revenues,” Tarin said, adding that he’s targeting about 6 trillion rupees next year in tax authority revenue, compared with this year’s 4.75 trillion-rupee target. “Unless we get more revenues, forget about any incentives to boost the economy.”

Other comments from Tarin’s interview:

  • On talks with the IMF: “All we are saying is that we are just basically going to give them alternate ways of achieving the same objective” including revenue generation and reducing energy debt, adding that the aim is for this to be the last IMF bailout in Pakistan’s history
  • Plans to tap undrawn allocated funds from Asian Development Bank and World Bank that total $20 billion
  • Aims to increase tech exports to $8 billion in two years, from an estimated $2 billion this fiscal year, a sector he said that he aims to support
  • Nation plans to soon launch global sukuk bond
Source: Bloomberg

Related

More from Economy
Most Read