Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pakistan's Finance Chief Shaukat Tarin Quits

Pakistan's finance minister Mr. Shaukat Tarin has resigned. Tarin is an accomplished banker and a protege of former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. He became Pakistan's finance minister in October 2008 when the nation's economy was on the brink of collapse. He led the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a 23-month, US $7.6 billion bailout package that boosted Pakistan's foreign-exchange reserves and helped avert a sovereign default.

There have been rumors that the ruling PPP politicians, particularly President Zardari and his inner circle, have ignored Tarin's key recommendations to address the acute power shortages in the country. Zardari's insistence on pushing rental power projects, rather than fix the huge circular debt problem in the energy sector first, specially frustrated the outgoing finance chief, when he reportedly threatened to quit last year.

In spite of the obstacles Tarin faced in his job, he has managed to stabilize the economy. International credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor both raised Pakistan's credit rating and outlook last year as reported by Bloomberg News.

S&P increased its rating on Pakistan’s long-term sovereign debt to B- from CCC+, six levels below investment grade and the same ranking as the Ukraine and Argentina. The outlook was maintained as stable.

“The upgrade reflects Pakistan’s improved external liquidity position, coupled with its successes in implementing corrective policy measures to rectify an unsustainable fiscal trajectory,” S&P said in a statement. “A narrowing current account deficit, helped by buoyant remittance inflows, and successive disbursals of the IMF and other multilateral loans have reduced the risk of near-term external payment difficulties for Pakistan,” S&P added in its statement last year.

Tarin recently said that Pakistan's economy may grow by at least 3.4%--faster than previously estimated--driven by a likely rebound in its manufacturing sector.

"The economy has started showing signs of recovery, but more work is needed on structural reforms," Tarin was reported as saying by the media.

The manufacturing sector, which makes up 25% of GDP, is now forecast to expand 5.5% this fiscal year ending in June, 2010, after having contracted by a similar margin last year, Tarin said. However, federal finances will be strained due to higher military expenditure and subsidies on electricity, he added.

As a result of investor confidence in Mr. Tarin's economic leadership, Pakistan's KSE-100 stock index surged 55% in 2009 in US dollar terms and 65% in rupee terms, in a year that also saw the South Asian nation wracked by increased violence and its state institutions described by various media talking heads as being on the verge of collapse.

Media reports have recently quoted Mr. Tarin as saying the government plans to meet investors in March to raise between $500 million and $1 billion in the last quarter of the current fiscal year, ending on June 30.

Here's the latest IMF assessment of Pakistan's economy on Tarin's watch, as reported by a private news channel Geo TV:

Pakistan’s economic growth has started recovering despite security and energy challenges and the country met almost all targets under the International Monetary Fund program, the global financial institution said Tuesday.

“Pakistan’s program is progressing well,” the Fund said in a statement following “constructive discussions” with Pakistani officials focusing on Pakistan’s recent economic performance, the outlook for the rest of the fiscal year.

Adnan Mazarei, who met with the Pakistani officials in Dubai over the past week to initiate discussions on the fourth review under Pakistan’s Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), noted that Islamabad observed all quantitative performance criteria for end-December 2009, except for the budget deficit target, which was exceeded by a small margin.

Listing positive trends Pakistan registered in recent months, the Fund said the exchange rate has remained stable at Rs. 84–85 per U.S. dollar and the international reserves position has strengthened (the banking system’s gross foreign exchange reserves, including the State Bank and commercial banks, reached US$14.3 billion in mid-February, of this total the State Bank held US$10.5 billion).

The early signs of recovery in some sectors and the improved external position are encouraging, although there are risks and challenges to Pakistan’s economic program.

“Economic growth in Pakistan is starting to recover; large-scale manufacturing output has started to increase, the improvement in the global economy has helped manufacturing exports, and private sector credit growth has picked up somewhat as businesses rebuild their working capital.”

The IMF’s package for Pakistan - approved in November 2008-has been extended to $11.3 billion.

Looking ahead, the IMF statement said, a resumption of higher growth is needed to raise living standards and will require improvements in the business climate to stimulate higher investment by local and foreign investors.

The financial institution also noted that the “resolve of the Pakistani authorities to implement their stabilization and reform program is a key factor in deepening macroeconomic stabilization, despite the risks associated with internal security and uncertainty as to the pace of global economic recovery.”

Emphasizing the need for stepped up donors support for the key anti-terror partner of the international community, the Fund said early disbursement of donor financing remains crucial to support Pakistan’s stabilization and reform efforts and laying the basis for a high and sustainable growth.

The IMF mission staff will prepare a report on the fourth review under Pakistan’s SBA that is scheduled for consideration by the IMF Executive Board in late March.

Pakistan should be able to attract financing from abroad "to the extent that they can demonstrate that there has been progress on these three fronts: growth; stand-alone external liquidity; and quality and size of budgetary revenues," Aninda Mitra, a vice president at Moody's, told the Wall Street Journal.

Mitra said if Pakistan's economic growth could return to a range of around 4%-5% "sooner than later without generating macroeconomic imbalances or inflationary pressure, that will be a pretty notable outcome."

It is also important for Pakistan to be able to enjoy sufficient external liquidity without depending on further contingent support from external official sources and for it to manage long-term budgetary pressures, he said.

Financial markets appeared to take news of Mr. Tarin's departure in stride.

Pakistan's dollar-denominated bonds and the costs of insuring against a default or restructuring of its debt were steady Wednesday. Its five-year credit default swap was last quoted at 1,112 basis points, or hundredths of a percentage point, on the bid side while its bonds were hardly traded. With holders of Pakistan's bonds mostly buy-and-hold investors, and given the small size of outstanding issues, trading volume tends to be relatively low.

Wall Street Journal says Pakistan's fiscal improvement has stalled recently mainly due to unforeseen factors such as the delays in the receipt of pledged aid from friendly countries as well as the conflict in the northwestern part of the country and resulting delay in military reimbursement from the U.S.

"The government has had to issue debt to finance such shortfalls," Mr. Mitra said. "We don't think that these are permanent or deep setbacks for the fiscal situation regardless of the transition" of leadership at the finance ministry, he added.

Media reports indicate front-runners to succeed Tarin include Nasim Beg, CEO of Arif Habib Investments Ltd.; Planning Minister Makhdoom Shahab-ud-Din; and Junior Minister for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, who presented the 2009-10 budget in parliament last year.

Although IMF is closely watching Pakistan's economic management for now, I believe it is still very important for the next finance minister to be persuasive, and display sufficient independence from the political leadership in managing the nation's economy as a professional.

Related Links:

US Fears Aid Will Feed Graft in Pakistan

Pakistan Swallows IMF's Bitter Medicine

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an optimistic assessment of Pakistan's economy by PM Gilani at Karachi Expo 2010, as published by The Nation newspaper:

KARACHI - Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that the economic condition of the country despite international and domestic adversities has improved significantly and Pakistan’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is likely to remain close to the target of 3.3 per cent during the fiscal year (2009-10).
“Foreign exchange reserves have risen from $6 to $15 billion and exports are expected to achieve target of US$ 20 billion. Remittances from overseas Pakistanis have reached $4.531 billion which is 25 per cent higher than last year,” he added.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony of Expo 2010 at the Governor House here on Thursday, he said that Pakistan’s private sector was very enterprising and has repeatedly demonstrated its dynamism and resilience even in adverse circumstances. It goes to the credit of the ingenuity and enterprise of our private sector that in the face of severe global recession, were able to reduce its impact on Pakistan’s economy compared to the much severe impact suffered by the economies of several other countries in the region.
He said that the government strongly believes in market forces to open opportunities and create a competitive environment in the country. “We have continued to liberalise the economy. The reforms in the trade and investment fields stem from our conviction that the private sector of Pakistan is the engine of economic growth and should be facilitated to play its role to the fullest in creating new businesses, opening new jobs and adding value to Pakistani goods and services for the export markets.”
Gilani said that the Ministry of Commerce through its “Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2009-12” has successfully addressed major issues like falling exports competitiveness, lack of sophistication, diversification of products and markets. STPF, a medium term plan, provides assurance for continuation of Trade Policy for three years and the businesses can plan their production and export orders accordingly. The policy has been set in motion and the initiatives are at various stages of implementation.
He said a comprehensive Textile Policy 2009-14 had also been announced to revive the textile sector through Textile Investment Support Fund (TISF) of Rs40 billion. He said that more than 500 buyers from 50 countries were attending the show this year and around 350 producers and exporters from all over Pakistan were displaying a wide variety of their products.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Bloomberg report on Tarin resignation:

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan’s Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has resigned, the third person in two years to quit the job of running an economy strained by terrorism and falling foreign investment.

“I will work as finance minister till the end of this month,” Tarin said in a telephone interview from Islamabad today. The businessman-turned-politician said he is leaving to raise funds for Silk Bank Ltd., in which he is a shareholder. “There was a conflict of interest,” he said.

Tarin played the lead role in negotiating an $11.2 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund in 2008 that helped Pakistan avert a default on repayment of overseas loans. His resignation comes as the government struggles to revive an economy facing terror attacks, food and power shortages.

Tarin said he has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index declined 1.3 percent to 9,823.57 today, the first drop in six days.

Four candidates, including former central bank governor Ishrat Husain, are contenders to replace Tarin, the Dawn newspaper reported on its Web site today. Others are Hafiz Pasha, an economist on the government’s advisory panel, Nasim Beg, chief executive officer at Arif Habib Investment Ltd. and Makhdoom Shahbuddin, the minister for planning and development, the paper said.

Foreign Investments Drop

Pakistan’s finance minister faces the challenge of boosting economic growth to an average annual pace of 6 percent over the next five years to cut poverty. The economy may grow 3.4 percent in the current financial year ending June 30 after a 2 percent gain in the previous year, according to the finance ministry.

More than 200 people have died since Jan. 1 as militants retaliate to Pakistan army’s offensive against Taliban extremists in the country’s northwestern region.

Overseas direct investment in Pakistan dropped 54.6 percent to $1.18 billion in the first seven months of the fiscal year that started July 1, the central bank said Feb. 15.

Food shortages have caused inflation to average 16.6 percent since Jan. 2008. Demand for power in Pakistan is three times the supply, forcing factories to shut and causing riots.

Tarin took charge in 2008, replacing Syed Naveed Qamar, the current oil minister. He was named the finance adviser to Gilani and then made the finance minister a year later. Qamar replaced Ishaq Dar, who resigned as the finance minister after his Pakistan Muslim League party, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, quit the ruling coalition in August 2008 over a dispute on the appointment of judges.

Mullah Khullam Khulla said...

These are all traitors to Pakistan. Like his boss, he can also now become a chaiwallah to Lakhmi Mittal, the bhindian bhindoo bhangee. Only solution for Pakistan is rule by patriotic Pakistanis that don't sell out, like Zaid Hamid.

Riaz Haq said...


Shaukat Aziz has denied joining Mittal, according to Financial Daily.

Staff Reporter
KARACHI: A spokesman of Shaukat Aziz, former prime minister of Pakistan, has said that the news item appeared in some sections of print and electronic media about his (Aziz's) joining Mittal Steel or any other entity of the group as director is baseless and firmly denied. He said there is absolutely no truth to the story and has urged the media to verify the facts before releasing such misleading stories.

Rabia Khanum said...

Pakistan will get ruinned in the hands of zardari. I wonder who and why one has voted for PPP !

Riaz Haq said...

Even as he leaves his post, Shaukat Tarin is sill trying to reduce the energy sector circular debt problem, according to the News:

KARACHI: The government has decided to issue Rs. 25 billion under circular debt head next week, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique said.

Talking to Geo News after meeting chaired by outgoing Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, he said of the pledged amount, the Finance Ministry will issue Rs13 billion and the remaining amount would be provided by various other departments and the provincial governments.

According to sources, the National Adjustor has hammered out a plan for adjustment of various departments and the provincial governments; however, it is now not clear that the amount would be adjusted in books or paid in cash.

Talking Geo News, Raja Pervez Ashraf said the government inherited the issue of circular debt, claiming the circular debt would be whittled away in March.

Riaz Haq said...

For those of you who are wondering what is "circular debt", here's a story I read that explains it well:

This is a funny story explaining circular debt -

It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town... He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 Euro note on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to choose one.

The hotel proprietor takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the pig grower.

The pig grower takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel...

The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the town's prostitute that in these hard times, gave her "services" on credit.

The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 Euro note to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.

The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 Euro note back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.

At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 Euro note, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.....

Anonymous said...

Riaz, interesting how you selectively allow bigoted posts like MMK's through. Have to make some painful deductions ...

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters' report on Pakistan's fiscal deficitfor first months of current fiscal ending in June, 2010:

KARACHI, March 1 (Reuters) - Pakistan's budget deficit for the first six months of the 2009/10 fiscal year (July-June) was 2.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the Finance Ministry said on its web site on Monday.

This was within a target that the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had set.

The budget deficit for the first three months was 1.5 percent of GDP, which was 0.2 percent higher than the target of 1.3 percent.

Pakistan pledged to keep its fiscal deficit at 4.9 percent of GDP in the 2009/10 fiscal year under a loan agreement with the IMF.

Outgoing Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said in January the fiscal deficit could rise to 5.3 percent of GDP.

However, analysts said the deficit could be contained if sufficient external flows came in before the end of the fiscal year.

Pakistan agreed in November 2008 to an IMF emergency loan package of $7.6 billion to avert a balance of payments crisis and shore up reserves. In July, the Fund increased the loan to $11.3 billion. (Reporting by Sahar Ahmed; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Zafar said...

Pakistan's finance minister should be an economist like Mahbubul Haq, not a banker. Tarin got the job because he is related to a Zardari friend Anwar Majeed, not because of merit. Nasim Beg will likely get the same job for the same reason.

Riaz Haq said...

Let me first address the question of choice of an economist versus a banker as finance minister.

Frustrated with his economic advisers, US president Harry Truman once said, "Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, On the one hand on the other. "

That sums it up as to unsuitability of an economist as a finance minister. As the key leader of the economic team, the finance minister has to be decisive. He can not afford to be a victim of analysis paralysis.

That is also the reason why most US finance ministers have been bankers rather than economists. Economists have served mainly as advisers instead.

From what little I know about Tarin, he was chosen because the IFIs (incl IMF and WB) could negotiate with him and trust him to do the right thing. He presented a competent face of the otherwise incompetent and corrupt Zardari team.

In spite of all the obstacles he faced in dealing with corrupt politicians, he was able to stabilize the nation's economy.

On the question of RPPs, he publicly disagreed with Zardari and co, and threatened quit over the issue, as as widely reported in the press.

He identified circular debt as the key issue in resolving load shedding and began the process of resolving it. He spent most of his last day in office working on this issue.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan has appointed Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, a Musharraf-era minister, as the new finance chief to fill the vacancy left by Tarin's resignation. Here's a Wall Street Journal report on it:

The post of finance minister has been vacant since Shaukat Tarin, a former Citibank executive who was a vocal critic of government corruption, resigned three weeks ago citing personal reasons. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has overseen the ministry in the interim.

Mr. Tarin's surprise departure and delays in appointing a successor raised concerns at a time when Pakistan's financial situation remains fragile.

The appointment of Mr. Shaikh, who is viewed as having wide-ranging political and business experience, could help to assuage those worries, analysts said. "He is noncontroversial and highly regarded in the international financial agencies," said Ashfaq Hasan Khan, a former senior finance ministry official who teaches at National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad.

The 55-year-old Mr. Shaikh, a U.S.-trained economist who served as privatization minister in former President Pervez Musharraf's military-led government, is expected to take office next week, a senior finance ministry official said.

In the 1990s, Mr. Shaikh served as country head of the World Bank's operations in Saudi Arabia. He comes from an influential family of politiciansfrom the southern province of Sindh, though he isn't a member of any political party. He will hold the official title of Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance because he isn't a member of parliament. The post has the same authority as finance minister.

"My main priority will be on growth and sound financial management," Mr. Shaikh said in a telephone interview. "I will concentrate on creating an environment that could attract private investment."

Mr. Shaikh is a partner in New Silk Route Partners, a private-equity firm that invests in Asia and the Middle East.

"He is experienced and strong on delivery. His appointment will give a lot of confidence to the stock market and to investors," said Muddassar Malik, chief executive of BMA Capital Funds, a Karachi-based asset-management company.

The International Monetary Fund has earmarked $11.3 billion in emergency loans for Pakistan since November 2008 when Islamabad faced a balance-of-payments crisis amid an al Qaeda-linkedIslamist insurgency that deterred investors.

To get regular disbursements of this money, Pakistan has to meet goals such as reducing its budget deficit from a current 5.1% of gross domestic product, reining in runaway inflation and increasing tax collection.

A major challenge for Mr. Shaikh will be energizing the country's struggling economy. He will also be under pressure to find money to help build much-needed infrastructure, such as power plants.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a recent Dawn report on Karachi stocks performance:

Foreign investment in the staggering sum of $57 million in two weeks, an unusual phenomenon, is acknowledged by brokers and analysts as the engine that has driven the market to the height.

Broker-turned-industrialist Arif Habib said that foreign funds had recognised Pakistan as a lucrative destination because of improved corporate profitability; a respite in internal political feuds, attractive valuations and high yields.

“The Pakistani stocks give out a yield of 5.5 per cent and the shares of profitable companies are trading on price-to-earnings multiple (PE ratio) of seven times the forward earnings. That compares well with the yield of two per cent and p/e ratio of 17 times in the regional markets including India,” Mr Habib said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a billion dollar LNG contract scandal uncovered by a complaint of the Fauji Foundation CEO, as reported by The News:

The NA members were told that the petroleum ministry bosses had never recommended to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to give the multi-billion dollar contract to French firm (GDF-SUEZ), whom surprisingly they all were religiously defending now.

It was disclosed that the petroleum ministry had actually recommended the award of the contract to Shell-Qatar, whose bid was higher than the French bid by $1.5 billion. But Shaukat Tarin had thrown this recommendation of the ministry in a dustbin after he learnt that he was being asked to award the contract to a party (Shell), whose bid was higher by $1.5 billion compared to the lowest bidder.

At the end of the hour-long presentation followed by a question-answer session, Chairman MNA Sheikh Waqas Akram, praised the journalist for his comprehensive presentation. Later, MD Fauji Foundation Lt Gen Rab Nawaz was said to have reiterated his old stance that his firm’s bid was the lowest if compared with the GDF-Suez, which was awarded the deal.

The committee met with Chairman Sheikh Waqas in the chair and was attended by MNAs Barjees Tahir, Nawab Yousuf Talpur, Wasan, Khurum Wattoo and others. Petroleum Minister Naveed Qamar, Secretary Kamran Lashari, Special Secretary G A Sabri and MD FF General Rab Nawaz attended the meeting.

Klasra told the committee that his story was based on the minutes of the ECC presided over by then Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. The minutes had revealed that Tarin had got a telephone call from MD Fauji Foundation that the lowest bid given jointly by FF/Vitol had been rejected and the highest bidder GDF-Suez was given the lucrative contract. Tarin had informed MD FF that he was not aware of any such bidding because the petroleum ministry never shared such information in its official summary tabled before the ECC on Feb 9.

Consequently, Tarin had alarm bells ringing and had ordered a serious probe into the whole issue as to why the bid offered by FF/Vitol was not mentioned in the summary. But the petroleum ministry never replied to the queries of Tarin till he departed from his office at the end of February, much to the satisfaction of the petroleum ministry officials who thought that the issue had been buried but the publication of the scandal by The News shook them.

Petroleum ministry officials had even written a letter to Tarin, informing him that Minister Naveed Qamar had desired that they should not respond to him as he would “personally deal” with this issue. According to Klasra, he had contacted Shaukat Tarin to get his version about these startling developments and the ex-FM had confirmed on record that he was kept in the dark about the joint bid of FF/Vitol, which was claimed to be the lowest.

Tarin confirmed that he got no reply from the Ministry of Petroleum till he left the office. He also claimed that according to his calculation and information, there was a difference of one billion dollars in the bid price of the French company and FF/Vitol, so the country had suffered a loss of a billion dollar.

Minister Naveed Qamar is a close friend and ally of Zardari.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Ahmad Rahid's take published by BBC on Pakistan budget priorities for 2010-2011:

When the $38bn annual budget was announced in parliament on 5 June, legislators sat up when it was announced that defence spending would be $5.2bn for 2010-11 - a rise of 17% compared to last year or 13.7% of the total budget.

Even more shocking news came a few days later when Saqib Shirani, principal economic adviser to the government, corrected that figure to say that actual defence spending for 2010-11 would be $7.9bn, a 30% rise compared to last year and 21% of the total budget.

The government did not disclose how it accounted for some $1.3bn received over the past year in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) by the US administration for fighting "terrorism".

With 28% of the budget being reserved this year for servicing Pakistan's huge external debt of $54bn, nearly 60% of the budget is taken up by just two items - defence spending and debt servicing.

Almost the entire development budget of $9.2bn will be provided by outside donors.

Meanwhile the country spends just 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education, despite the fact that average literacy is only 57%. Even the army admits that the lack of education is fuelling militancy.

However with the economy in a downward spiral and the government facing an internal funding crisis in the months ahead, Islamabad has begun to threaten the US.

Retired Lt Gen Syed Akthar Ali told parliament that the US government had for two years willfully withheld billions of dollars of CSF that were owed to Pakistan.

''The time that we have to rethink our security priorities about external threats is approaching,'' Mr Ali warned recently.

"We will stop operations (in Fata) and go back to the eastern borders,'' he added threateningly.

However he admitted that in the past six months the US had released $1.3bn in CSF arrears, but was still holding back payments of $1bn.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was equally blunt when he told visiting Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, that ''time is running out fast, public support can only be kept intact if the international community start delivering on their pledges.''

At a conference in Tokyo a year ago, major donors who make up the "Friends of Pakistan" pledged $5bn in aid, but so far few pledges have been honoured except by the US.

''There is grand disillusionment amongst the Europeans for Pakistan's refusal to address our concerns - transparency about aid funds, improving governance, using aid money to build up defences against India rather than fighting terrorism and its lack of concern for minorities,'' a senior European diplomat said.

Mr Gilani's recent trip to the European Union (EU) in Brussels, following the brutal killing of 90 Ahmedis in Lahore by militants was a public relations disaster, with the EU bluntly refusing to fund Pakistan unless it improved its governance record.

Yet even as Pakistani leaders cajole the West for more money and warn of an impending economic collapse, the army insists that the world must recognise Pakistan as a full blown nuclear power.

Riaz Haq said...

India's Debt-GDP ratio is worse than Pakistan's.

Here are excerpts from an interview with US investor Jim Rogers published in Forbes March 2010 issue.

After all the budget euphoria, it is time for a reality check. Investor and venture capitalist Jim Rogers remains deeply skeptical of India's future. In an interview with S. Srinivasan, he argues that the country is sitting on a fiscal time bomb.

Some specific global lessons or examples that India can adopt from other countries such as China?
Open your borders to foreign capital and brains. For example, foreigners cannot enter retailing in India, but Wal-Mart, etc. are all over China. Your politicians close down free commodity markets every time prices rise as if the markets were making the prices rise!

Farmers can own only very, very small farms, so India cannot compete on the world stage, yet India should be one of the great agriculture nations of the world.

What will it take to get you to invest in India?
Some sense of 21st-century reality. Open the economy [in areas] such as retailing, energy, agriculture, etc. Make the currency fully convertible.

What are the lost opportunities in the budget, according to you?
The same things I just mentioned. Likewise why not start reducing the gigantic debt if things really “are getting better,” as he claims?

You have watched India for a long time. Where do you think the country will go from here?
Continue muddling along until the reality of the huge debt-to-GNP [ratio] hits home and stops things.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the news of Faisal Saleh Hayat asking the Supreme Court to review irregularities in the award of rental power plants:

ISLAMABAD: Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, a member of the Supreme Court bench hearing allegations of corruption in rental power plants (RPPs) projects, said on Wednesday he wondered why Pakistan was getting a mere 150MW of electricity despite having paid a whopping amount of Rs18 billion as a mobilisation fund to power generators one and a half years ago.

Taking a suo motu notice of the allegations, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Justice Ramday ordered the IT in-charge of Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) to retrieve information about the company’s generation capacity of the past one year, along with details of shortfall.

According to former minister Faisal Saleh Hayat of the PML-Q, the information had been removed by Pepco from its website.

“The statement seems to be true as our own responsible officer from the IT department confirms it,” the chief justice said, adding: “Prima facie we are of the opinion that Pepco for reasons known to its authority has removed the figures whose retrieval is very important for a decision by this court.”

The chief justice observed: “After such a big investment, prima facie the desired results have not been achieved.” He said that not any other forum, but an Asian Development Bank report itself had said so.

Last year the federal government had approved plans to set up rental power projects to generate about 1,206MW of electricity to end loadshedding.

But the plans became controversial when Faisal Saleh Hayat, a member of the National Assembly, levelled corruption allegations against Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the house. Mr Ashraf rubbished the allegations and threatened to sue Mr Hayat.

The court asked Pepco’s IT in-charge to appear in person and submit the company’s authentic record.

He is required to retrieve the information from ‘master server’ if it is not available at the website.

Mr Hayat, who was summoned by the court to substantiate the allegations, described the RPP deal as the mother of all corruption and said the units being installed were 10 years old and had outlived their utility.

“They (plants) are not only very expensive, but their generation capacity has also deteriorated over the years,” he said.

Citing the official record he had downloaded from Pepco’s website, Mr Hayat said that Pakistan’s power generation capacity was about 19,478MW in 2008 while the total electricity demand was 18,200MW in 2009. About 3,068MW had been purchased from independent power producers (IPPs) which, he said, was half the capacity of 6,098MW generated through thermal plants.

Despite adequate generation capacity, Mr Hayat alleged, the much-needed power requirement was deliberately not met to justify installation of rental power houses and callously leave the poor masses to bear 14 to 18 hours of loadshedding. Besides, he said, managing directors had been appointed in Pepco in violation of the company rules because they were neither engineers nor finance specialists, or from business or accounts.

“The power generated by IPPs cost us 10 to 12 US cents per unit while the same from RPPs will cost us 15 to 22 cents,” Mr Hayat said.

But Khawaja Tariq Raheem, the counsel for Pepco, said the electricity from RPPs would cost the country Rs14 per unit while the same from thermal power (IPPs) cost Rs12 to 18. The electricity from hydel projects cost Rs2-2.5.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an Op Ed by Shaukat Tarin, Pakistan's fomer finance minister published in Daily Times:

Pakistan’s perennial structural weakness has been its abysmally low – and declining – tax collection. Even Pakistan’s most powerful government of recent times, that of Pervez Musharraf, left in its wake a tax-to-GDP ratio of less than 10 percent after over eight years in unbridled power. This is amongst the lowest tax collection ratios in the world.

Leaving total collection aside, the composition of tax receipts in Pakistan depicts huge inequity. Direct tax collection constitutes less than 3.5 percent of GDP, with wide ranging exemptions to powerful segments of society coupled with governance issues at FBR. The bulk of the tax receipts are collected in the form of sales tax. Far from being progressive, the taxation regime is highly regressive, meaning that the poor and less affluent are taxed more heavily as a proportion of their income than the rich.

The other weak (rather, missing) link in public finances is the lack of fiscal effort by the provinces. With some of the largest segments of economic activity such as agriculture, real estate, and services in the provincial domain with regards to taxation, it is baffling that provincial tax receipts total an abysmal 0.7 percent of GDP.

At the heart of it, these issues are related to governance. This state of affairs is a manifestation of a broader challenge that Pakistan has grappled with virtually since independence – the shifting of the burden of responsibility by a small, self-serving and venal elite to the rest of the population.

The flip side of not collecting taxes, and not being able to manage expenditures, is debt. This was never more evident than in early 2008 when a new government took office after elections. It inherited a tax-to-GDP ratio of less than 10 percent, a fiscal deficit of nearly 8 percent of GDP, and a current account deficit of over $14 billion (a record 8.5 percent of GDP). Despite receiving generous assistance from the international community year after year, as reflected in the country’s total external debt rising from $35 billion to $46 billion between 2005 and 2008 (over and above budgetary grants), the previous administration mind-bogglingly resorted to printing currency to the tune of over Rs 700 billion in two years. This factor was a major contributor to the spiral of inflation that was set in motion from 2007 onwards.

The nexus between not collecting taxes and having to borrow cannot be over-emphasised. To place this in context, consider the following: if Pakistan’s tax to GDP ratio had been increased to a modest 13 percent in 2005 when the global as well as domestic economic conditions were most favourable, and kept stable since, Pakistan’s public debt would have been almost 15 percent of GDP lower (at around 44 percent of GDP, instead of close to 60 percent currently). Put differently, since 2005, the government has cumulatively borrowed over Rs 1,600 billion largely on account of not being able or willing to collect taxes.

The net effect of this state of affairs was high inflation, pressure on FX reserves, a decline in the value of the rupee, and an erosion of market and investor confidence. This was a perfect recipe for tipping the country into a full-blown macroeconomic crisis, which came with full force in 2008. To stabilise the country’s fast depleting reserves, it is not surprising that the government had to resort to borrowing from the IMF in November 2008.

Hence, the primary factors behind the increase in public debt over the past three years include recourse to the IMF, a large adjustment in the value of the rupee after several years of the currency being kept artificially stable, and a large decline in grants and other non-debt creating inflows such as FDI after 2007.

Riaz Haq said...

Express Tribune reports easing of circular debt in Pakistan:

The government has paid Rs120 billion overdue electricity subsidies to improve the financial condition of power companies, leaving it with the option of either letting the budget deficit slip to 6.3 per cent or playing with the figures to restrict it to 5.5 per cent.

The payments would partially improve the balance sheet of the power sector that has been crippled by the government’s inability to pay price differential claims. The arrears that have increased to Rs288 billion are one of the main reasons for the massive power shortfall, recorded at 7,200 megawatts on Tuesday, as companies are not running at optimum capacity. The capital injection will enable power companies to purchase fuel for electricity generation.

The payments have been made to the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), Pakistan State Oil, oil refineries, power generation and distribution companies. However, these will widen the budget deficit by another 0.7 per cent of national income, torpedoing the revised fiscal framework.

The government that has been struggling to restrict the budget deficit to Rs941 billion or 5.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now facing a situation whereby the gap may swell to Rs1,078 billion or 6.3 per cent.

Finance ministry officials said so far the ministry was reluctant to pay its dues because of the negative implication for the budget deficit – the gap between national income and spending. Officials added that the government paid Rs98 billion on Wednesday while the remaining Rs22 billion would be released today (Thursday).

Sources said the finance ministry was considering deferring payment of other subsidies like those for agriculture and fertilisers to the next financial year. There is an option to even defer some of the electricity subsidies of this fiscal year.

Any attempt to play with the figures may invite the International Monetary Fund’s wrath that in the past slapped penalties after noting tempering with budget figures.

According to the Budget Strategy Paper 2011-12, the government will pay Rs186 billion electricity subsidies by June-end. The accumulative power subsidy for this year and the previous two years amounts to Rs306 billion. The finance secretary was not available to comment on the issue.

The circular debt still stands at Rs168 billion even after Rs120 billion payments. The major factor for the debt now is the refusal of provinces to pay their dues to Pepco. The four provinces, Fata and AJK owe Rs106 billion to Pepco, according to official documents. Of this amount, a major chunk of Rs76 billion is due to be paid by the provinces. Punjab owes Rs9 billion whereas Sindh owes Rs37 billion.

The ongoing massive power shortage is partly because of oil and gas shortages and partly because of inefficient power plants. Although the government has paid a handsome amount, there is still a big question mark on the sustainability of the power sector due to resistance to reforms. The government is not ready to completely disband Pepco and it is also not amending the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority Act that is necessary to ensure full power tariff recovery.

Karachi Electric Supply Company’s (KESC) tariff structure is another source of concern. This year alone, the federal government will pay Rs40 billion subsidies to KESC on account of price differential.

The other major factor is longstanding receivables from private consumers. All the distribution companies are unable to recover Rs69.7 billion from private consumers which are overdue from two months to three years, according to the documents.