• Vows to end misuse of public funds for luxuries
• Insists next IMF bailout could be last if economic targets are met
• Announces plans to abolish corrupt, loss-making ministries, cut red tape

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday stressed the need for sacrifice from both elected and non-elec­ted elites to ensure the co­u­ntry’s progress and vowed to end the misuse of public funds for luxuries.

He hoped that Pakistan will no longer rely on IMF programmes if economic tar­gets are met and ann­ounced the closure of corrupt ministries and departments as part of the government’s effort to combat corruption and promote economic stability.

In his maiden address to the nation marking 100 days of his government, PM Shehbaz claimed that the government had successfully achieved tangible results on the economic front during this period.

Pakistan was slowly coming out of economic difficulties and marching on the road to progress and prosperity, he said but noted that this journey required sacrifices from government leaders and the elite.

He said that when he assumed office in April 2022, the government successfully averted economic default. He credited the achievement to his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, and coalition partners, including Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

When he again became prime minister following the Feb 8 elections, he said various steps were taken to bring down inflation from 38 per cent to 12pc. He said the decrease in the interest rate from 22pc to 20.5pc was also a significant development that would help promote investment.

The prime minister said a significant reduction in petroleum products’ prices would provide relief to people, noting that all economic indicators were on a positive trajectory.

He held out the assurance that friendly nations have pledged billions of dollars in investments, which will be facilitated through the Special Inves­tment Facili­t­a­tion Coun­cil, foc­u­sing on agriculture, ene­rgy, and other sectors.

‘Goodbye to IMF’

He expressed optimism that the country would soon say goodbye to the IMF. “If we succeed in implementing the IMF programme and achieve the targets set in the recent budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2024-25, this will be the country’s last IMF programme,” he said.

Reflecting on past successes, the premier reca­lled that Nawaz Sharif had ended reliance on the IMF in 2017. He asserted that with commitment, Pakistan could surpass neighbouring countries in development and economic growth.

Prime Minister Shehbaz acknowledged that past attempts at progress were often derailed by unforeseen obstacles but decla­red that this time, no power would impede the country’s development. He outlined a five-year agenda for economic stability and public welfare, including rooting out corruption, accelerating tran­sparent privatisation, and reducing the import bill.

He announced plans to abolish corrupt or loss-making ministries and departments, expand the tax base, and eliminate bureaucratic red tape.

“We have defined the future course of action. We will pursue it with utmost honesty and strictness. We will spend every saved penny on public welfare. We will eliminate red tape. This journey is not only difficult and long but also demands sacrifice from the government authorities as well as the elite,” the prime minister said in the televised address.

He said the journey of economic stability and prosperity was not so easy while people were looking towards the government for immediate relief.

Due to the government’s “pro-people” policies, he said, the inflation-hit people would get further relief in the near future. He advised the nation to get united and play its role in the country’s development and prosperity, adding that it should also show a sense of sacrifice and adopt austerity measures in their lifestyles.

Corrupt ministries, depts

Mr Sharif cited the Pakistan Public Works Department (PWD) as an example of a government department plagued by corruption, which had a devastating impact on the country’s economy.

He revealed that a staggering 50pc of funds worth over a hundred billion rupees allocated to development projects were lost to corruption within this department.

“I have decided that the ministries and departments that have become a hub of corruption must have to be eliminated,” he said, adding that a ministerial committee had also been formed in this regard. He expressed his commitment to make solid decisions in one and a half to two months. “You will see a big change in this regard in less than two months,” he added.

Chinese, UAE commitments

Recently, he said, he visited China, where agreements amounting to billions of dollars were signed.

Similarly, he said, the UAE government had committed to investing at least $10 billion in various sectors.

The prime minister said the government had also chalked out a comprehensive strategy to materialise the committed foreign investment in Pakistan’s various sectors, including mines and minerals, agriculture, information technology and others under the SIFC.

“But before that, we have to create such an environment that we should ensure the domestic investment. We have the best financial experts, businessmen, traders and industrialists who could boost the domestic investment and play a role in the country’s development and prosperity,” he said. He termed political instability as the country’s biggest enemy and its progress.

He noted that efforts were underway to fully digitise the Federal Board of Revenue system to enhance tax collection and reduce corruption. He praised the significant increase in revenue collection, which he said saw a record 30pc rise compared to the previous year.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2024

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