No requirement in Pakistan programme that interferes with polls: IMF

ISLAMABAD: In an apparent snub to the federal government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday made it clear that decisions regarding the constitutionality, feasibility and timing of provincial and general elections “rest solely with Pakistan’s institutions”, clarifying that there was “no requirement under Pakistan’s Extended Fund Facility-supported programme which could interfere with the country’s ability to undertake constitutional activities”.

The statement from the international monetary lender comes a day after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided to put off Punjab Assembly elections by more than five months, citing financial and security constraints.

The ECP’s order detailed a meeting held on March 9 wherein the Ministry of Finance secretary briefed the commission that “due to the paucity of funds and financial crunch, the country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis and it was under compulsion by IMF programme which has set targets for maintenance of fiscal discipline and deficit, and it would be difficult for [the] government to release funds now” for elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and later down the line for Sindh, Balochistan and the National Assembly polls.

The order also said that the Punjab chief secretary, in a meeting held on March 14, had said that “it shall not be possible for the provincial government to fund the elections”, citing various financial commitments as well as the IMF programme’s requirement that Punjab maintain a “cash surplus of Rs413/9 billion [sic]”.

Meanwhile, IMF Resident Representative for Pakistan Esther Perez Ruiz made a statementa suggesting that the targets under IMF-supported programmes are set at the aggregate general government level (aggregating across federal and provincial government), and within these there is fiscal space to allocate or reprioritise spending and/or raise additional revenues to ensure constitutional activities can take place as required.

Cash-strapped Pakistan is in a race against time to implement measures to reach an agreement with the IMF.

The agreement with the IMF on the completion of the ninth review of a $7bn loan programme — which has been delayed since late last year over a policy framework — would not only lead to a disbursement of $1.2bn but also unlock inflows from friendly countries.

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