Ministers back GDP growth data amid debate

Published May 23, 2021
Energy Minister Hammad Azhar hoped that growth in economy would reach 4pc during the current fiscal year. — DawnNewsTV
Energy Minister Hammad Azhar hoped that growth in economy would reach 4pc during the current fiscal year. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: An unexpected rate of economic growth in the current fiscal year has triggered a heated debate in the country, with several members of the federal cabinet coming up with a string of justifications to prove authenticity of the data involved and the main opposition leader expressing doubts over the calculations of government’s economic team.

The National Accounts Committee (NAC), a body having representation of all the stakeholders, including provincial officials of crop reporting services, bureau of statistics and senior economists has estimated that economy will grow at 3.94 per cent in the year 2020-21.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif termed the figures released by the government “wrong”.

Taking to Twitter, Mr Sharif said the PML-N had left the growth rate at 5.8pc at the end of its tenure. He went on to say the PTI government had also exaggerated the original figures of 1.9pc to 3.3pc in the first year of its government.

Shehbaz claims figures released by govt are wrong

He accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of running the country only for his friends. “PTI government has made 5 million people unemployed, 20m people have gone into the worst poverty,” he said.

Planning Minister Asad Umar also took to Twitter to reply to questions raised about the health of NAC figures. “This is not your time to tell the committee what to announce,” said Mr Umar in response to Mr Sharif’s tweet in which the latter had pointed out that questions were asked in the NAC meeting also, which proved that the statistics were not correct.

Mr Umar said questions were raised in the professional non-political committee, the data was examined and a unanimous decision was made. “You can’t believe how Imran Khan revived the economy you destroyed, in spite of Covid-19,” he further remarked.

Federal Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, who has quarantined himself on advice of his doctors, used his Twitter handle to comment on the NAC figures. However, State Minister for Finance and Revenue Dr Waqar Masood Khan was present in the NAC meeting.

Mr Tarin said Pakistan witnessed a strong V-Shaped growth despite being in a tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

The IMF programme was necessitated by unsustainable current account deficit and declining foreign currency reserves, besides a vicious Covid 19 pandemic.

Energy Minister Hammad Azhar, who served as finance minister for a brief period, hoped that growth in economy would reach 4pc during the current fiscal year.

“This is the outcome of our prudent economic policies despite the negative impact of Covid-19”, the minister said while sharing economic outlook of his government at a news conference.

The minister said this is not a temporary growth but will be sustained and further strengthened in coming years.

When the year 2020-21 began, IMF estimated GDP growth at 1pc and SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) at 2pc; then SBP improved their forecast to 3pc and IMF improved to 1.5pc. He said improvement in projections come with the arrival of fresh data.

He said multiple economic research entities and analysts had predicted 4pc economic growth this year despite challenges posed by Covid-19. And they made this prediction many months ago and prior to official estimates, he further said.

Mr Azhar said that large-scale manufacturing grew by 9pc during the first nine months of the current year and the country’s export had been recorded at $3.2 billion in the month of March. He said goods’ exports remained at over $2bn for seven consecutive months. It is expected that exports would cross $25bn and reach an all-time high figure.

The minister said that foreign exchange reserves had touched the level of $23bn, which is the highest in five years since December 2016. And remittances had witnessed a growth of 39pc in the current year in July-April to $24.2bn. He said over $2bn in remittances were received for 11 consecutive months.

The rupee appreciated by 9pc since August 2020 from Rs168 to Rs153 and rated as the best performing currency in the last three months, he said.

He said that current account had a surplus of $959 million in July-Mar 2021.

He said that sale of cement and automobiles increased during the period under review while better crop prices benefitted the farmers’ community.

In response to a question he said the government had formulated a plan to address the issue of circular debt.

Talking to Dawn State Minister for Finance and Revenue Dr Waqar Masood Khan said that questions were asked during the meeting and were subsequently addressed by the relevant people.

He said the SBP projection of 3pc growth of GDP was based on old crop production figures. The revised figures of crops especially over 27m production of wheat was shared with the meeting’s participants, he said, adding the figures keeps updating at the provincial agriculture level.

The provincial crop reporting services of agriculture departments shared the updated figures with the NAC meeting. “No one was expecting the highest-ever growth figures in wheat,” he said.

He said SBP projection was based on estimation and now actual and updated data had come.

About the estimates of IMF and World Bank, Dr Waqar said that multilateral donors keep growth rates on the lower side. He said in the last IMF programme growth rate was projected at 1.5pc to 2pc but the economy actually grew at 4pc in the year 2013.

He said that multilateral donors don’t have their own data and rely on the data provided by government of Pakistan. He said Federal Board of Revenue posted a growth of 6pc in the first six months while it grew at 16pc in the four months of the second half.

“The growth in revenue collection is showing that economic activities are going on in the country”, Dr Waqar said.

Minister for Industries and Production Khusro Bakhtiar took to twitter saying despite worldwide economic slowdown, flag of Pakistan’s economy continued to rebound and showed remarkable turnaround. LSM recovery continued to expand at 9.29pc growth, highest since 2011 which will lead overall industrial sector growth.

He said that broad-based economic recovery amid a pandemic is a result of government’s successful economic policies to revive industry and agricultural sectors through fiscal stimulus and construction package.

Due to the Agriculture Package, country produced highest amount of wheat and sugar cane, improving living costs in rural areas. The boom in construction sector will help achieving 5pc economic growth rate next fiscal year. Industrial sector will continue to lead economic growth, he added.

Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan said achieving GDP growth of 4pc with other positive indicators and macroeconomic stability during a global recession is a huge achievement. “This is the achievement of the government and has proven all detractors wrong”, he added.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2021

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