KARACHI, April 17: With three weeks are left for general elections, the Pakistan Economic Forum (PEF-II) on Wednesday presented its recommendations for addressing serious issues facing the country, stressing that the advice will serve as a guideline for the future government.

The Pakistan Business Council (PBC), which represents the country’s largest business groups and corporations including MNCs, organised the forum at the Karachi School of Business followed by a press conference. Leading corporate and socio-economic experts discussed education, water, energy, social security, macroeconomics and regional trade at the day-long session.

It was noted that water scarcity lingered at the limit of 1,000 cubic metres per capita in Pakistan and a water crisis was in the offing.

Meanwhile, the energy panel observed that the country’s growth was slowed down by the 3-4 per cent in the past few years despite the fact that over 40pc Pakistanis remained off the national grid.

The forum stressed on the need for constructing new dams in the country as well as exploring alternate means for energy generation.

The two most active panel discussions were those on macroeconomics and regional trade. Led by Dr Ijaz Nabi, the latter eventually turned into a ‘lets have trade with India’ session.

The macroeconomic panel maintained that Pakistan’s environment remained unfeasible and GDP growth rate in the last 4 years had been around 2.5-3pc only.

It further said that weak fiscal structure fueled by high government borrowings and inflation was leading to a fiscal deficit of over 8pc that needs to be reduced to 4pc.

The panel maintained that trade between Pakistan and India remained well below potential and various issues including the strict visa regime, trust deficit and LoC tensions were blamed.

PEF recommendations stressed the industry must be involved in providing social welfare while EOBI’s base must be broadened. It further added that poverty score card developed by the BISP should be shared with provinces and these must be adopted in targeted programmes.

Recommendations on education stressed on ensuring autonomy of the Higher Education Commission and universities, reforming examination and textbook boards and emphasis on teacher development.

Regarding energy, the PEF stated that T&D losses must be reduced to internationally accepted norms of 6-8pc while industry and commercial establishments must undergo energy audits.

Business laws need to be revised while accountability of audit firms for professional misconduct must be accomplished.

However, it was the post PEF event presser where question regarding the upcoming elections and the influence of the forum’s recommendations were raised.

Answering a question as to why the forum aimed at getting parties on a single platform when elections were nearing and each party had its own agenda, Sikander Khan, chairman PBC said that PEF’s recommendations were not linked to the upcoming elections.

“We had been working on the recommendations for months. Once we have sorted out the national economic agenda, which would be done after the elections, we will try to get all political parties together on a platform and develop consensus,” he said.

He expressed hope that change will come, adding that the nation has shown ‘maturity’ by letting the government complete its term.

Answering a query about Pakistan’s depleting foreign reserves, Ishrat Husain, former SBP governor, said the forex market was ‘run on sentiments’.

“Forex inflows and outflows must be managed and SBP has to do this job and chalk out strategies in this regard.”

Furthermore he added that if a good government comes, ‘business confidence will soar’.

Stating that the public sector has been highly politicised, he stressed on the need for privatising entities that were causing massive losses.

Responding to a scathing question on whether the government would take PEF’s recommendations seriously, Abdul Razak Dawood said: “Our recommendations have been incorporated in the manifestos of two leading political parties. Now it’s the people’s job to vote for the right candidates. Also, the masses and media must hold these representatives accountable if they fail to deliver promises.”

He further said that PEF was all for increasing the tax net and wants the government to tax all sectors.

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