Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. — File photo
ISLAMABAD: In a fresh twist, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Monday that the government had decided to immediately take up the $6 billion Dasu hydropower project because its construction could start without delay, while the $14bn Diamer-Bhasha project would take 10-12 years to complete.
“We are going into both projects simultaneously. Why should we waste time” making preparations for the Diamer-Bhasha project, he said at a news conference.
He said the USAID had been able to persuade the US Congress to approve $20 million for technical study of the Bhasha dam which was a big development. Earlier nobody ever talked about this project. This would be followed by more funding for construction of the dam, he said.
The minister said the Asian Development Bank which would be the lead financier of Diamer-Bhasha was studying its project structure. He said it was a big project that no one agency could finance.
“Then the World Bank will study it and it will take 2-3 years for the project to shape up.
“Therefore, I have decided we should immediately start work on the Dasu hydropower project” that could be initiated in six months without any major paper and technical work and start producing electricity from two or three units in three years, he said.
Mr Dar said he had convinced the US authorities and the World Bank the project did not need a no-objection certificate from India.
When asked if lending agencies and investors could provide more than $20bn for the two projects, he said annual instalments and sequencing would address this challenge.
The World Bank has been asking Pakistan to give preference to the 4,320MW Dasu project over the 4,500MW Diamer-Bhasha dam that will also provide storage of 8.5m acre-feet of water and enhance the life of Tarbela Dam and barrages downstream.
But some Wapda officials viewed this sequencing as a ploy to put the strategically important Diamer-Bhasha dam on the back-burner.
AFGHANISTAN: About his talks with the Afghan finance minister, Mr Dar said the two sides had agreed in principle to jointly develop a 1500MW hydropower project on the Kunar River and Afghanistan had been asked to provide its feasibility study.
He said the two sides had accepted the Afghan minister’s proposal to build a motorway from Peshawar to Kabul. “We have agreed to the proposal and sought immediate preparation of a feasibility report so that the project can be placed before the multilaterals for financing.”
He said Pakistan had agreed to get approval of the federal cabinet for Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-Afghanistan-Pakistan electricity trade, known as Casa (Central Asia-South Asia) project. He said the project would now be of 1,300MW instead of the originally envisaged 1,000MW.
The minister said the other states had adopted a resolution for the project’s implementation. He said Pakistan would clear the project in a couple of days.
He said Pakistan had agreed to resume work on the Torkham-Jalalabad road. About 57 per cent work on the road had been completed in 2008 when it was halted. The two sides agreed to realign the 170km Torkham-Jalalabad railway line through Loi Shalman valley bypassing Landi Kotal and create an 11km railway link between Chaman and Spin Boldak.
Mr Dar said Pakistan had removed all restrictions on Afghan transit trade through Wagah, including guarantee for goods transportation, insurance guarantee and permission for non-containerised vehicles.
Afghanistan has been asked to reciprocate by removing the requirement of cash guarantee on transportation of Pakistani goods to Central Asian republics.
BAILOUT PACAKGE: The finance minister said Pakis-tan had met ‘4.5’ of the five pre-conditions of the International Monetary Fund for a $6.6bn bailout package, while the remaining condition pertaining to the State Bank would be accomplished on Aug 27 when it would announce the monetary policy for the next two months.
He said the government had not accepted a condition of currency devaluation, except for natural devaluation.
In anticipation, the IMF management has already circulated the agenda and letter of intent of the Pakistan government to its executive board which will meet next month to approve the assistance programme.
He said that with the IMF programme and assistance from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank a total financing package of $12bn had been put in place that would take care of all external liabilities for three years.
He said the international lending and credit agencies were looking positively at Pakistan after the recent political transition and corrective measures taken by the government.
FISCAL DEFICIT: Mr Dar said the country had concluded the last financial year with a fiscal deficit of 8pc against the originally estimated 8.8pc as a result of cutting expenditures. He said the fiscal deficit of the federal government was estimated at 8.2pc but it dropped to 8pc (Rs1.834 trillion) because of Rs57 billion cash surplus provided by the provinces.
He said the FBR had missed its revenue target last year by a big margin and collected Rs1.936tr instead of Rs2.381tr. The total revenue stood at Rs2.982tr, including tax revenue of Rs2.231tr and non-tax Rs751bn. Total expenditure was Rs4.816t, while Rs368bn was provided for subsidies and Rs342bn for circular debt.