Miftah Ismail
Miftah Ismail

KARACHI: Vowing to return to the country only after striking a deal with the International Monetary Fund, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail left for Doha on Monday for holding talks with IMF officials.

The talks were scheduled to be held in Islamabad, but the global lender refused to send its team to Pakistan after PTI chairman Imran Khan announced his plan for a long march towards the capital on May 25.

Mr Ismail regretted the change of venue at the eleventh hour, saying the talks in Islamabad could have given him an edge as he could have been in touch with all ministries during the final leg of the negotiations.

Terming economic policies of the PTI government landmines for the new coalition government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the finance minister, however, pledged to keep petrol prices unchanged and to impose no new tax or levy on petroleum products.

“It would be too easy to increase prices of fuel as were guaranteed by former PM Imran Khan and his finance minister Shaukat Tarin to the IMF,” Mr Ismail told reporters at the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport before catching the flight for Doha, where his team, comprising senior officials of State Bank of Pakistan, Federal Board of Revenue, as well as Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Dr Aisha Ghous Pasha and the finance secretary, are already waiting for him to lead them in talks with the IMF.

“If I go with the commitment made by Imran Khan and Shaukat Tarin to the IMF, I will have to remove subsidy and increase diesel price by Rs150 per litre and petrol by Rs100 per litre,” the finance minister said. “The IMF now wants that commitment to be met. Why are we taking so much time? Because we have made it very clear to the IMF that it cannot happen. I have refused to do so. We can’t remove subsidy this way. It’s not my decision. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif have refused to accept this condition. But still let me assure you, we would finalise our talks with the IMF. We will return only with good news and a done deal.”

Referring to agricultural production of the country during the PTI government, Mr Ismail said the country reported the lowest production of cotton since 1983 and key commodities like wheat and sugar, which used to be exported between 2013 and 2018, had to be imported under Mr Khan’s tenure.

He claimed that the PTI government agreed to tough IMF conditions “deliberately” which landed the country in a difficult position. He accused PTI ministers and key personalities of Mr Khan’s government of “massive corruption” that deprived the country timely decision-making and led to an unending crisis ranging from loadshedding to environmental damage.

“In Punjab, Chief Minister [Usman] Buzdar sold out 16 licences of cement factories,” he claimed. “Can you imagine that? It is a serious environmental damage to award 16 licence of cement production in less than four years because this industrial process requires mining of limestone. In fact these licences weren’t awarded. They were sold for money.”

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2022

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