Finance Minister Ishaq Dar Saturday came out to clarify that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif requested him to postpone his US visit, snubbing the buzz that International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials barred him from attending Bretton Woods Institutions’ spring meetings in Washington DC.
Dar, in a fiery speech, rubbished rumours that the officials of multilateral lenders refused to meet him at the spring meetings of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The finance czar clarified that he postponed his visit to the US on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s request.
“Pakistan is a member of the IMF and not a beggar,” Dar said censuring rumours that he decided to postpone his trip due to resistance from the Washington-based lender.
He emphasised that IMF “cannot stop me from attending the spring meetings”.
Dar was expected to attend the spring meetings of the World Bank-IMF that were taking place from April 10 to 16 in Washington.
Meanwhile, he was also scheduled to meet the IMF management for holding talks regarding the removal of bottlenecks for the revival of the derailed $6.5 billion programme.
Islamabad has been negotiating with the IMF since the end of January for the release of $1.1 billion from a $6.5 billion bailout package agreed upon in 2019. To unlock the funding, the government has cut back on subsidies, removed an artificial cap on the exchange rate, added taxes and raised fuel prices.
However, assurances from friendly nations for additional funds have delayed the agreement.
The finance minister — who was sworn in last year in September — said these are routine rituals, emphasising that a “constitutional crisis has been created in Pakistan.”
“The Ministry of Finance has a huge responsibility regarding the disbursement of funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in light of the Supreme Court’s April 4 ruling.
Earlier this week, the apex court declared the ECP’s decision on the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) election null and void, ordering to hold snap polls in Punjab on May 14 — a persistent demand forced by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan after he dissolved the assemblies in both the provinces.
He said that the Supreme Court has ordered for the federal government to give $21 billion for elections in Punjab by April 10. “Of course, the finance ministry and the cabinet have an important responsibility in this regard, and I’m a part of it,” he said.
“Due to these circumstances and on the prime minister’s directives, I have dropped my plan to visit Washington [physically]. This is not an unusual thing. Virtual meetings took place during COVID. I will be attending the World Bank, and IMF meetings that I’m required in from Islamabad.”
The minister said that even though he won’t be attending the meetings in person, a delegation representing Pakistan, which comprises State Bank of Pakistan Governor Jameel Ahmad, Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh and Economic Affairs Secretary Kazim Niaz, will be there.
‘Pakistan has completed all requirements’
Addressing concerns regarding the delay in the staff-level agreement with the IMF, the finance minister said that everything required from Pakistan to conclude the much-delayed ninth review was “now complete”.
Dar, however, added that the one final thing needed was a confirmation of a $1 billion commitment from a friendly country.
Dar said that the government had already done all that was required from it to conclude the ninth review. He said that at the time of the seventh and eighth reviews, two friendly countries had informed the IMF in writing about its offer to help Pakistan with its external account.
“The two-month delay from mid-February was due to this reason,” he said. “In the past two weeks, one of our friendly countries has again given them (the IMF) the confirmation [of its commitment to help Pakistan] with $2 billion.
“We are now only awaiting the confirmation of a $1 billion commitment from one friendly country. After that, all their requirements to conclude the staff-level agreement will be complete. Following that, it takes two more weeks to take the matter into the board meeting.”
The finance czar also spoke about the speculation that the petrol subsidy announcement irked the Fund officials, causing further delay.
“We also had several rounds of communication with the IMF. As soon as that news broke they asked us ‘What are you trying to do?’ We gave them a satisfying answer because that subsidy is not a part of the budget.”