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Performance aside, Asad Umar's resignation ill-timed, say trade and industry leaders

Updated April 19, 2019

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A Pakistani stockbroker monitors share prices during a trading session at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karach. ─ AFP/File
A Pakistani stockbroker monitors share prices during a trading session at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karach. ─ AFP/File

KARACHI: Trade and industry leaders all said that the departure of the finance minister at this critical juncture was ill-timed, though many raised questions about his performance.

“As finance minister, Asad could not control the economy and did not take trade and industry on board while framing policies. The economy can only be controlled if you know the ground realities,” said Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Daroo Khan Achakzai.

The FPCCI chairman acknowledged that Mr Asad did consult the business community. “However, our suggestions were either blocked at decision making stage or were brushed aside by bureaucracy. The end result is there in the form of his resignation,” he said.

Citing an example, he said, “if member Inland Revenue of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) could make such loose remarks that there is no need to widen tax base but there is a need of deepening of tax collection, how can you expect to take business community into confidence.”

“This means that FBR is only trying to further burden the existing taxpayers and allow those who do not pay a single penny to the national exchequer go scot free. This has shattered confidence of the business community in the system and has chased away new investment,” he maintained.

Korangi Association of Trade and Industry Mohammad Danish Khan regretted that Mr Asad has tendered his resignation at a very critical juncture when negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are going on.

“His performance as finance minister was not satisfactory and he was rejected by the masses as well as trade and industry who are suffering high cost of living due to inflation,” said Chairman SITE Association of Trade and Industry Saleem Parekh.

“There is huge gap in revenue collection and trade deficit could not be narrowed down as it was being claimed. All these negative developments made Asad unpopular,” he added.

The SITE chairman went on to say that important ministries including finance, foreign affairs and interior directly impact the country’s standing internally as well as globally, while adding, “Asad should have waited till the announcement of budget 2019-20.”

Chairman Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association Shabir Ahmed said that so many important developments are taking form including signing of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, amnesty scheme and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scheduled visit to China and Iran.

“The finance minister’s resignation at this juncture does not augur well at this time. A wrong message is being sent out internally and externally” he said. He too agreed that the move has shattered confidence of business community which is already under tremendous pressure owing to high cost of doing business.

Read: 'Neither angry nor disappointed': Asad Umar on leaving 'most difficult job in Pakistan'

The PBEA chairman questioned the performance of the Advisory Board of Ministry of Finance. “If Asad failed or could not deliver as per the expectations, what were these experts doing all this time since no tangible results on economic front were seen,” he said.

“It seems Asad got confused and could not sustain pressure from opposition parties,” said Chairman Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers Association (PHMA) Jawed Bilwani. It is pertinent to say that the timing of his resignation is totally wrong because many sensitive developments are simultaneously moving forward, he added.

The PHMA chairman said that during the PPP regime many finance ministers were changed including Naveed Qamar, Shaukat Tareen and Hafeez Sheikh, stressing that Umar should not have resigned before the upcoming budget.

Meanwhile, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President Almas Hyder said that Asad had deep understanding of how the economy and businesses operate. “As finance minister he implemented certain initiatives to boost exports and support industry like reducing the energy costs for exporters and decreasing duties on import of raw materials for the domestic manufacturers,” he noted.

The LCCI chairman told Dawn that replacement of finance minister at this moment when the government is finalising the loan deal with IMF and next budget is not something business community was expecting.

“However, Asad’s successor will get enough time to handle the issues facing the economy and own the IMF deal as well as the new budget. The business community is hopeful that the new finance minister will continue policies to support exports, industrialisation and investment in the country,” he summed up.

Sharing a similar opinion, Chairman All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (Aptma) Syed Ali Ahsan said, “Asad did whatever he could in the given circumstances and given the massive economic challenges and financial constraints facing the country.”

Acknowledging that there are immense problems and overnight recovery cannot be expected, he hoped that Asad’s successor will work to revive the flagging economy. “We will continue to work with the government to boost exports and narrow trade deficit,” assured the Aptma chairman.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019