KARACHI: Finance Minister Muhammad Auran­gzeb has asked banks to enhance lending to priority sectors to stimulate economic growth and development in Pakistan.

The minister said this in a high-level meeting with State Bank Governor Jameel Ahmad and CEOs and presidents of leading banks. The primary agenda of the meeting was to discuss and strategise on enhancing lending by banks to priority sectors.

Mr Aurangzeb emphasised the critical role of the banking sector in supporting the government’s development agenda and urged the banks to increase financing and lending to priority sectors, namely agriculture, small and medium enterprises, and information technology.

For over the last 18 months, banks have sidelined credit provisions to these vital sectors, primarily citing the deterrent of a 22 per cent interest rate.

Meets SBP governor, bank CEOs, discusses ways to fuel growth in agriculture, SMEs, IT

The private sector’s borrowing has gone down to just Rs40.5 billion during more than eight months of the current fiscal year, compared to Rs225.4bn a year ago. Though the banks earned record profits in 2023, lending to priority sectors was extremely poor.

The SBP’s latest data shows that non-bank financial institutions witnessed a net debt retirement of Rs74.3bn during the period, compared to Rs156.6bn a year ago.

The drastic decline in credit to the private sector dented economic growth, which was negative in fiscal 2023. The situation during the ongoing fiscal year is not encouraging either. The second-quarter economic growth was just 1pc against the estimated growth of 3pc.

During Friday’s meeting, Finance Minister Aurangzeb gave a comprehensive briefing on the current economic situation, highlighting the government’s ongoing efforts to promote economic stability, fiscal discipline and sustainable growth.

He requested the Pakistan Banks’ Association to lead a task force comprising representatives from the banking sector, government and relevant stakeholders, with the primary objective to accelerate financing in the priority sectors and devise actionable strategies to overcome the existing challenges and bottlenecks hindering the growth of these vital sectors.

The SBP governor expressed his support for Mr Aurangzeb’s initiatives and emphasised the central bank’s commitment to facilitating an environment that will allow banks to increase lending to priority sectors. He highlighted the SBP’s role in providing regulatory support, policy guidance, and financial incentives to encourage banks to expand their financing activities aligned with the government’s priorities.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2024

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