Asad Umar defends economic growth figures, credits PM Imran's coronavirus strategy for better performance

Published May 25, 2021
Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar (L) and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry (R) address a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar (L) and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry (R) address a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Tuesday credited Prime Minister Imran Khan's strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic for the country's better economic performance despite earlier projections.

He made the comment during a press conference in Islamabad in which he discussed the figures recently released by the National Accounts Committee which estimated a 3.94 per cent economic growth rate this fiscal year, compared to a revised negative 0.47pc in 2019-20.

At the outset, Umar said the federal cabinet analysed the figures in its meeting today after an intense debate was witnessed over the last few days. The minister said he shared the reasons behind the growth rate with the cabinet.

"In a year in which the world's big economies were in trouble and the challenge of Covid was there ... we had a comparatively better situation. The foundation stone for this better economic performance was the prime minister's decision" to protect the poor and combat the coronavirus in a way that people's livelihoods would not be affected, he said.

"There is no doubt people still went through difficulty but [Pakistan] remained better off as compared to the rest of the world. The world's big organisations and people also said work has been done [in a better way] in Pakistan."

Read: Economists divided on 3.94pc GDP growth rate projection

Outlining the reasons for the improved economic growth rate, Umar said because of the "innovative work" of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, money was given to nearly one-third of Pakistani families, which was then put back into the economy when the people spent it.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) played a "wonderful role" and took timely decisions, according to the minister, while the Ministry of Finance gave a "very big stimulus package" which boosted businesses' confidence.

"The prime minister personally [made efforts] for the construction sector. He held negotiations with the managing director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and got concessions." Umar contended that daily-wage labourers earned the most from the construction sector, adding that Pakistan did not have trillions of dollars compared to bigger economies so it wanted people to invest in sectors such as construction that generated the most employment.

He said the government had been receiving statistics for months and no one had raised any questions previously.

The minister shared that overseas Pakistanis had sent more than $5.4 billion in remittances in the first 10 months of the year which would rise to around $6.5bn by the year's end.

"More than half of Pakistan's population is directly or indirectly linked to agriculture. Out of five big crops of Pakistan, cotton [production] was not as good as last year's. Three of four crops — wheat, maize and rice — had record production this year."

The sugarcane crop this year was also a bumper crop and the second-largest yield in Pakistan's history, Umar disclosed. All of the data regarding crops had been available for months but there was no controversy attached to it, he added.

"It is logical that if you see such growth in the production sector, then the services sector will also show growth. We do not get high-frequency data for construction so we use cement sales as a proxy. Every month, it is being reported in newspapers that record sales have taken place."

Similarly, loans taken by the private sector were a good indicator of industrial activity and figures were reported every month by the SBP, he said. Data for the first nine months of the year showed a 60pc increase in the number of loans taken by the private sector in general while there was an increase of Rs126bn in loans taken by the sector for expansion purposes, he added.

'It is doing that because it sees something [in the future]," he said, while stressing that "all high-frequency data is pointing towards fast pace [of growth] and strength in economy".

The minister said some people were doubting the economic growth rate because it was different from the projections by the World Bank and the IMF. He pointed to last year when the National Accounts Committee projected that the economic growth rate would be -0.38pc but later revised it to -0.47pc.

The World Bank and IMF had said back then that Pakistan's economy would shrink by 1.5 to 2pc which had not happened and the National Accounts Committee was proved "right", he said.

He said he "understood the opposition's worry" about the figures, especially the PML-N who he claimed was concerned at how PM Imran and his team had "made the economy stand on its feet when they left it in tatters".

Committee approved to review TLP ban

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who addressed the press conference before Umar, apprised the media of decisions taken by the cabinet, including the approval of a proscription review committee that would decide on the ban imposed on Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) last month.

Chaudhry said the proscribed party had submitted a request to review the ban and under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the government was bound to form a committee comprising officials of the interior ministry for review.

During the meeting, the cabinet "welcomed the improvement of relations" between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, he said, adding: "We believe that a reduction of grievances among Muslim ummah will bring stability in the world and we support it."

A point-by-point presentation on the government's bill on electoral reforms was given by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, he said.

Chaudhry said the government was "waiting for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take action" on how its social media pages were misused, in an apparent reference to the ECP sharing a journalist's vlog on Twitter in which he termed Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as "expensive fraud".

Easier visas for Chinese citizens

Chaudhry also disclosed that the cabinet approved a "special visa process" for Chinese citizens working on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects or those who wanted to invest in the country.

"Pakistani missions in China will provide a two-year work entry visa to Chinese citizens for CPEC [projects] within 48 hours. Security clearance will be given within 30 days. Separate immigration counters will be established on the line of green channel for CPEC business visa holders," he shared.

"[For] work/business visa, a separate subcategory of CPEC visas will be established. Similarly, in China, separate desks will be established at Pakistani missions for considering CPEC visas," he added.

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