• Senators from Balochistan want census date extended by a month
• Rabbani irked by finance ministry official’s ‘negative remarks’

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday confirmed that China had rolled over a $2 billion loan, quashing the speculation that the matter was still pending.

The remarks come as Pakistan scrambles to sec­ure a $1.1bn bailout tranche from IMF to address its acute balance-of-payments crisis and avert default.

Speaking in the Senate, Mr Dar explained that Pakis­tan has two kinds of businesses with China; one relating to SAFE (state administration of foreign exchange) deposit is between Central Bank of China and State Bank of Pakistan, which is sovereign in nature, while the other is with commercial banks of China.

“As far as the SAFE deposit is concerned, I am happy to confirm that it was rolled over on the maturity date of March 23,” he said, adding that relevant documentation for 2023-24 had also been completed.

Mr Dar, who is also Leader of the House, said the government normally avoids making such developments public as part of an understanding with China. He dismissed the report citing a finance ministry official claiming that Pakistan’s request for rollover was still pending as totally speculative. “Maybe some official stated this owing to ignorance. I have no idea,” he remarked.

On July 3, 2019, the IMF’s executive board approved a 39-month extended arrang­ement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Pakistan for an amount of about $6.5bn to support the country’s economic reform programme.

Cash-starved Pakistan has been negotiating the release of $1.1bn out of the $6.5bn since early February, but the tranche has not been released as yet by the IMF which keeps on changing its conditions for concluding the staff-level agreement (SLA).

The issue of Chinese loan’s rollover was raised in the upper house of parliament by PPP’s Mian Raza Rabbani.

Speaking on a point of public importance, the former chairman Senate sought a clarification from the finance minister over a media report suggesting that China was yet to roll over the loan and there was no final word from Beijing.

Mr Rabbani termed the finance ministry official’s remarks “highly improper” and asked Mr Dar to give his version on the matter. This becomes important because IMF, unlike the past, has put a condition that it would not sign the SLA with Pakistan till it gets confirmation of foreign funding from frie­ndly countries, he pointed out.

Senator Rabbani said China’s finance ministry and its central bank, the People’s Bank of China, had also not made any comment on such queries reported in the foreign media.

“China always stood by Pakistan through thick and thin and is an iron brother and friend of Pakistan,” the PPP senator said, adding that this would be inappropriate if such news emanates from Pakistan’s finance ministry.

Meanwhile, Mr Rabbani shared with the house that his private members bill, barring arrest of legislators after covering of a session, had been passed by the National Assembly as well and now it would be sent to the president for his assent.

Census date extension

Later, senators belonging to the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), National Party (NP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) called for an extension of at least one month in the ongoing digital census in the province, warning that otherwise the exercise would remain flawed and questionable.

The chair agreed to the demand and asked the Senate secretary to write to the government accordingly.

“I will also talk to the prime minister, if needed, for one-month extension in the digital census,” Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani assured the senators.

NP Senator Tahir Bizenjo, while taking up the issue, claimed that census in the province was going at a snail’s pace and difficulties were being confronted due to the digital system and long distances.

“In some areas, work on blocks has been halted while in other just 20-25 per cent has been done so far. At least one-month extension is needed in the census date and this is a demand by all senators from Balochistan,” he said.

Maulana Faiz Mohammad of JUI-Fazl also made a similar demand. Endorsing the call, BAP’s Sarfraz Bugti urged the chair to use his influence for getting the census date extended, as ethnic division in the province was an extremely sensitive issue.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2023

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