KARACHI: Members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue spoke with one voice on Wednesday about the unapproachability of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

“He doesn’t even meet me,” said PML-N MNA Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh, chairman of the body, when members of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) complained about their lack of access to the all-powerful minister.

In his visit to the KCCI along with other members of the parliamentary committee, Mr Sheikh said there’re three centres of power in Pakistan: finance minister, chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue and governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

“Dar sahab didn’t get directly elected by the people,” he said while complaining that nobody, including business bodies like the KCCI, thought much of the usefulness of parliamentary committees.

He asked businessmen to make use of the legislative body to approach the finance ministry. “We’ll conduct a joint press conference… let’s see how your problems remain unresolved,” he said.

The controlled exchange rate policy, a hallmark of Mr Dar’s brand of economic management, was roundly condemned by the Karachi businessmen. They said foreign trade was at a standstill because of a dollar shortage that’s reflected by the widening gap in the official and actual exchange rates as well as a rapidly expanding black market for greenback trading.

“Machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is lying idle because banks aren’t clearing even $1,500-$2,000 payments for the import of spare parts,” said Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Businessmen Group that controls the KCCI.

The government has been trying to curb dollar outflows by minimising imports, including those of raw material for industrial units. As a result, some manufacturing companies have either shut down operations altogether or scaled back their production.

“Shipments of grains, machinery, chemicals and foodstuff are stuck. Shipping and port charges are piling up. Accumulated demurrage is higher than the cost of shipment in many cases,” he said.

Mr Motiwala criticised the SBP’s recent directive to commercial banks that put the import clearance for the export-oriented industries below the food and energy sectors on the priority list. “Exports generate dollars. Where’ll you find dollars if the export sector is low on your priority?” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2023

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