First Imran Khan made the economy a hostage to politics. Now the PML(N)-led government is doing the same.
Under attack from the opposition parties and fearing loss of power the PTI announced on February 28 a four-month freeze on petrol and electricity prices to seek public acclaim while passing over the burden to those who were preparing to replace the PTI government. The fuel subsidies announced were unfunded.
Now the PML(N)-led alliance is unwilling to withdraw the fuel subsidies for fear of political repercussions. The PML(N) had severely criticized former prime minister Imran Khan’s government for derailing the IMF programme through these subsidies but despite being at the helm, it has not reversed them. The Finance Minister has repeatedly said these subsidies are not feasible and are costing the government. The PML(N) and its allies are unwilling to do away with subsidies as the measure would be highly unpopular. This has given birth to the perception that both Mr Khan and his rivals give priority to the concerns of their respective parties over the interests of the country at large
Pakistan and IMF have again failed to reach staff-level agreement this week. The IMF emphasized the urgency of concrete policy actions, including removing fuel and energy subsidies. The government maintained it was committed to reducing the overall budget deficit in FY2023, reviving the IMF programme and putting Pakistan back on a sustainable growth path. The government also reportedly expressed willingness to gradually eliminate fuel and electricity subsidies within 45 days to two months to avoid a sudden shock to the people. This was not acceptable to the IMF which made the resumption of its programme with Pakistan, along with a $2 billion expansion, conditional on the reversal of these subsidies.
The delay in release of the IMF tranche has held back the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other bilateral creditors from committing new loans to Pakistan. Even friendly countries need the IMF’s endorsement before agreeing to issue loans to Pakistan. There is therefore an urgent need to end the petrol and power subsidies at the earliest. There is no other way out.