The interim government was empowered to privatise state-owned enterprises and power distribution companies to improve the ailing economy, said the information minister Murtaza Solangi on Friday.
“We can do this and our legal opinion is the same and we will do it,” he said in reply to a query during a press conference after the meeting of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) – a hybrid civil-military forum – in Islamabad.
He was asked whether the caretaker government could do policy intervention to privatise state owned enterprises and power distribution companies or not.
Solangi supported his response with the decisions taken by the previous government to empower the caretaker setup. The previous Parliament passed amendments to the Election Act 2017, granting the caretaker government powers to take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects.
It was a continuing session of the SIFC, said Solangi and added that details of the decisions would be shared when they were finalised. The forum will again meet on Saturday (today).
The fifth meeting of the SIFC apex committee was with a singular focus on improving the overall business and investment environment in the country which is imperative for ‘economic revival’, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan.
The meeting was chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and attended by Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, federal cabinet, provincial chief ministers and high-level government officials.
The committee deliberated upon various measures to be taken in the short, medium and long term to reap the envisaged dividends. “Various practical steps were approved by the PM that will be operationalized as soon as possible,” it said.
The interim premier asked the ministries to deliver optimal results “irrespective of the time” that was available with the interim government and emphasised laying a strong foundation for the future government.
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At the outset of the presser, Solangi told reporters that the meeting was focused on boosting investment in sectors including information technology, mining, and agriculture. The forum also focused on lowering government expenses, circular debt, implementation schedule for privatisation of SOEs that are not benefitting, and curbing smuggling of food items, petrol and foreign exchange.
Caretaker setup will go for rollover of deposits on maturity
When asked, caretaker Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar said the interim government would go for a rollover of the deposits from other countries upon their maturity.
“What option do we have now for reviving the economy? We are an import-intensive economy. Management of foreign exchange reserves is a very high priority for us and we are closely monitoring the situation. We are in discussions that that inflows are brought in on a timely basis and we will also go for the rollover of deposits that we have in place right now on their maturity,” she replied to a query.
The former central bank governor described the prevailing economic situation as “reasonably okay” for now.
In reply to a query, Akhtar said the situation about the inflow of dollars from the country was not “unusual” since imports needed to be opened up for industrial revival, exports had declined and there was a shortfall in remittances.
She added that discussions were underway with multilateral development banks and they were hopeful of fast-tracking the process being discussed with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
A review of the International Monetary Fund was due in November, after which the second tranche of its programme with Pakistan was expected, as well as a tranche from the ADB and some loans from the WB.
“What the actual precise amount of [total inflows] will be will take some time in discussions but if you ask for the full year, we are hoping it will be close to about $6 billion cumulative inflows from different sources,” Akhtar said.
At the press conference, caretaker Commerce Minister Gohar Ejaz blamed the shortage of the supply chain for inflation that occurred after the government banned imports to curtail the high import bill.
He called for boosting exports and generating employment opportunities.
Ejaz said that inflation could only be effectively managed by augmenting exports, the burgeoning dollar price of Rs300 could potentially decrease to Rs250, simultaneously mitigating inflation.
He shared that the country had over two million tonnes of sugar by September while speaking about the shortage of sugar in the country. He called for controlling smuggling, adding that civil and sensitive institutions were working to control it.
Moreover, interim Power Minister Muhammad Ali called for boosting production of fuel supplies, including gas and oil, to meet domestic needs.
“We need to focus on gas and oil exploration because if we locally extract them then that will reduce our import bill and improve our supply,” he said, “bids for 10 onshore blocks will open in November while the caretaker government is also looking into inviting bids for 24 offshore blocks in the first phase in December.”
He shared that Pakistan has Rs350 billion worth of yearly loss in the gas sector.
When asked, he said that security clearance was not the only reason for the lack of gas exploration. According to Ali, pricing and circular debt were the other two reasons which prompted foreign companies to leave Pakistan.