IT looks like the recent round of talks with the IMF have gone quite well, perhaps better than expected.
It is true that they ended without a staff-level agreement, in which the targets and benchmarks for the forthcoming period are finalised, but all indications suggest that this is now a mere formality.
With such a ringing endorsement of the government’s performance in the first six months of the programme, there can be little doubt now that an agreement for the next quarter is just around the corner.
The statement released by the Fund on Friday must come as a relief for the government, especially its economic managers, who have been taking a serious battering in recent months with the relentless march of inflation and the lingering slowdown in the economy. The Fund clearly says the economy has stabilised, inflation is now set to trend downwards, and the fiscal and external sectors have performed admirably, in some cases surpassing expectations.
But the moment of relief must be short.
It should be remembered, for one, that the IMF routinely gives positive reviews to Pakistan during programme implementation, especially when ties with the United States are strong or on the mend.
Second, it should also be remembered that the programme is a long one, and the first six months may have brought hard-won gains in the fiscal and external balances, but the road ahead is treacherous and the economy and populace are exhausted under the burden of the sacrifices they have been called upon to make in the name of this adjustment.
The other thing that the same statement makes clear is that much more is yet to come, and the government is soon likely to be reminded that ultimately it is the people of this country who will decide whether or not its performance has been good, and not the IMF.
Against this background, some sobering facts came to light on the same day that the glowing IMF statement was released.
The country’s circular debt has risen to a staggering Rs1.78tr, up by 34pc since September 2018. Over that time period, it has risen by an average of Rs38bn per month, or more than a billion rupees per day. At some point, the growth of this circular debt will need to be arrested, and then reversed.
There is also the question of maintaining the fiscal balance going forward, which will require further taxes or expenditure cuts.
These are some of the loose ends left to be tied up before an agreement can be signed by both parties. But the costs of these measures will be borne by the people of the country, in the form of higher power tariffs, more taxes, and fewer jobs. The IMF’s words of praise will not help as this journey continues. Dedicated focus on running things will.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2020