EAC sub-groups make key proposals ahead of budget

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday chaired a meeting of Economic Advisory Council (EAC) and discussed proposals prepared by various sectoral groups for incorporation in the next budget and a three-year programme. The Finance Minister expressed the hope that the meeting would enable the forum to provide an opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with prominent professionals associated with economic development issues of Pakistan. He invited the five sub-groups of the EAC to make their presentations for discussion.

The sub-group on energy, headed by Farooq Rahmatullah, presented its proposals related to oil and gas sector with a view to achieving a lower cost of energy and becoming self-sufficient in country””s needs. The proposals included building strategic reserves of POL products, deregulating oil marketing and distribution, bringing price parity between competing fuels, enhancing exploration of oil and natural gas, encouraging exploration companies”” investment and prioritising natural gas distribution to power generation and industry sector. The sub-group recommended a holistic privatisation plan for DISCOS and suggested steps aimed at bringing down the government subsidy in energy sector.

Sub-group on industry and trade, headed by A. Razak Dawood, recommended diversification of export base; moving away from prime focus on textile and rice and for promoting non-agriculture based export industry including engineering, IT, chemicals and food processing. The sub-group highlighted that GSP plus status is not just for textile and it includes all products. It recommended making Pakistan a hub of exports in relation to engineering and chemical sectors. The sub-group appreciated the strategy of phasing out the notorious ””SRO regime”” while maintaining a level-playing field.

The sub-group on food security/agriculture, headed by Dr Abid Qayuim Suleri, presented a detailed briefing on state of food security and recommended establishment of a special task force on social safety nets which should give recommendations to integrate and reform the existing social safety nets to enhance their collective impact. It recommended school feed programme, special nutrition programmes, stimulus programme to expand farm outputs and market access, storage of essential food items, oil crop cultivation, cheap credit to agricultural sector and rationalising market prices of essential food commodities. The sub-group appreciated the fiscal measures taken by the ECC towards bringing down potato price in the market.

The sub-group on resource mobilisation and expenditure management, headed by Arshad A. Zuberi, gave a detailed presentation on resource generation and transparency, allocation and management of expenditure. It was decided that the sub-group will present short- and medium-term measures which could be incorporated in the next budget and in a period of three years, respectively.

The sub-group on social sector, led by Dr Sania Nishtar, proposed recommendations on education, health and social protection sectors for incorporation in the next budget and for medium term reforms. It observed that after the passage of 18th Amendment and devolution of subjects to the provinces, there are areas in which the federal government can take initiatives for the public benefit.

The Finance Minister said social safety net is an area which is a priority area of the government and in this regard, he mentioned, that the government has increased disbursement to BISP from Rs 40 billion to Rs 75 billion in the last budget. He said that within the constitutional and legal mandate of the federal government, the recommendations which are doable will be included in the next federal budget. The Finance Minister said that present government has introduced certain reforms in the taxation system during the last budget and an incremental approach has been adopted with a plan to implement essential reforms in three years.

The Finance Minister also briefed the EAC on the performance of the government in the last nine months and shared the status of economic indicators. The EAC congratulated the Finance Minister on successful holding of auction for 3G, 4G spectrum and observed that it will have a far reaching impact on the development of social sector in the country.

The launch of Eurobond worth US $2 billion was also appreciated by the EAC. There was a general feeling that economy has taken a positive turn and if the reforms and restructuring plans are implemented, there will be an economic turnaround.

Dr Ishrat Husain, the Convenor of the EAC, said that the meeting was very informative and productive. He said that the convenors of the each sub-group should solidify their recommendations meant for the next budget and submit to the IERU of the Finance Division by the first week of May, 2014 and medium term recommendations will be discussed after the budget. It was decided that the next meeting of EAC will take place in the second week of May, 2014 to discuss the final recommendations of the sub-groups. Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Federal Secretaries, Members of the Economic Advisory Council and senior officials of the Finance Ministry also attended the meeting.-PR