Remember the East India Company?


The IMF is no different

When Friedman and Savage (1948) put forth their behavioural theories, they discussed behaviours that contradict traditional finance assumptions of rational individuals. Always seeking to maximize the utility of their money and being risk-averse, they used examples of buying lottery tickets and insurance, in which expected utility is low but people participate in their purchases. One wonders of their joy only if they knew about the IMF sponsored economic plan of the current Pakistani government.

Economic experts have been lambasting the outgoing PPP government’s economic policies as amongst the worst in the country. That was until the present government unfolded its own plans, dictated by the IMF’s terms for a $6.7 billion loan package. The government pleaded its case for the borrowing, citing it as absolutely ‘necessary’ to pay back a previous IMF loan.

It also rightly stressed the importance to clear the circular debt of the energy companies to ensure ‘maximum’ supply of electricity. However, this was largely achieved by borrowing from the local market which to a large extent crowded out private sector businesses. Finding it insufficient, the government also printed currency worth Rs804 billion in just two and a half months – about the same time taken to accept the IMF programme. This along with the SBP purchasing over $125 million from the open market to ‘build’ its dollar reserves during the two months (July and August 2013) created immense pressure on the rupee which for the first time in history went over PKR108.7/$. As a result over Rs330 billion has been added to the national debt just due to currency devaluation. This of course has increased the future debt servicing costs too.

While anti-public actions of the IMF programme like increasing the power tariffs by gradually removing subsidies and devaluation of the currency, causing high inflationary pressures, are being implemented in the name of economic reforms despite the dire situation of the industry, the much needed structural reforms in the taxation system are being ignored. The rich and the powerful practically still enjoy a tax-free income stream while the poor and middle-class is being milked unjustly through indirect taxation.

Throughout the world the focus is on maximizing the direct taxation as indirect taxation always results in inflation and unjust taxation. To elaborate the point, a rich person would be paying the same amount of indirect tax on fuel or groceries as a poor or a middleclass person resulting in higher tax-to-income percentage for the less affluent.

With terrorism already paralyzing Pakistan’s economy, these are certainly not the best reforms one would expect from a properly prepared and prudent economic team. Consider the current economic situation of Pakistan:

The rupee is in a constant fall, already declining by 2.5 per cent every month, inflation is rising at an alarming rate, power cuts have yet to be reduced significantly for industry (power supply for home consumers has improved but only at the cost of industry), industry is struggling against power crisis and increasing production costs, GDP growth is forecasted at about two and a half percent while fiscal deficit is expected to cross nine per cent.

Now examine the major effects of the ‘reforms, as panned out by the government so far: Constant devaluation of currency and increased interest rates resulting in even higher inflation, resulting reduced purchasing power leading to stagnant or reduced revenues for business and public exchequer, rounds of layoffs fuelling already serious crime rate and militancy, power crisis (not just electricity but also the gas load ‘management’) and inflation forcing more industries to shift abroad while further increasing unemployment and an even greater piece of national budget going to debt servicing.

What is actually needed is to extend the tax base by not only widening the numbers in existing tax classes but also bringing in the ‘forbidden’ areas of agriculture especially big landlords in the tax net. It’s a pity that over two thirds of Pakistan’s population is associated with agriculture, yet there is no tax on it. Even where tax net exists, there are many famous cases where people were never taxed. There is a famous case of a ‘biryaniwala’ brought into the tax net only after he bought property worth millions. An extensive focus in this direction with proper incentives, powers and training for implementation officers can actually yield much more effective results at much less economic cost and hardship than the current IMF programme.

Another area to improve upon is inducing proper checks and balances and ensuring the system is followed in all financial dealings. The power companies’ circular debt payment is already viewed with suspicion due to the lack of the above. A sum of over Rs500 billion was paid to several power companies in haste without any audit and checks as to the accuracy of the bills. Furthermore, no material concession was successfully implemented even if negotiated at all. To given an idea of how material this was, it is about 75 per cent of the total amount the IMF will be lending to Pakistan over the entire duration of its programme.

Saving and restarting investment and economic activity requires political will to take tough decisions and introduce reforms that may not necessarily be anti-public. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s government has so far showed no sign of doing so. They better start doing it now as I still remember what an influential friend in London once told me: conquering countries by wars is just too expensive but making them slaves economically is a most effective and a proven way. Remember the lessons of the East India Company. They aren’t so ancient.


The writer is a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter @OmerZaheerMeer


  1. Notwithstanding the moot points, I found the writer's claim (a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert) quite interesting. Jack of all trade, master of none???

    • So why are you not the editor? Just because you do not know or dislike something should not mean that you pass nasty comments. Being a common person I can relate to all that he said. Hats off to the writer.

  2. Brilliant. Agree with writer. We need independent econ policies. PMln trolls should think about inflation bombs. Imran Khan is the solution.

  3. I'am really impressed. All points make perfect sense in easy to understand language. Dar has proven to be a disaster.

  4. It is kind of relieving to know that there are people who understand the true nature of problems that Pakistan faces & are equally well aware of solutions ! The writer has made his position very clear on the current disastrous social & economical situation in the country. The domino effect has left current government absolutely clueless just like their predecessors ! The only point I would like to add to this brilliant article is Nationalization ! I believe it’s time we Nationalized instead of Privatizing our revenue generators ! I would hope the government sincerely looks into the good suggestions of the writer keeping aside their biases !

  5. Feeling proud to know our country has talented people like the writer. Very impressive. He seems to have a through command and knows what he is talking about.
    Asad Umar was my favorite before and now there is another Omar in the top list. I would feel much better with this guy dealing with my country's economy than ishaq imf dar

  6. I feel proud that our country is full of talent, but we are selling our talent to other countries. Well done Omer

  7. Superb. Great analysis and solutions.
    I hope we have such people to direct our economy. Look forward to your next column.

  8. Nice article. Improving Law & order to attract FDI, removing barriers to increase remittances, broadening of tax net, reforms in power sector & FBR, revival and reforms of large PSEs, and austerity in government spending is the only way forward.

  9. A sound approach to the problems and an apt treatment of the subject.
    Unfortunately the rulers don't learn from history and therefore are doomed to repeat it.

  10. great job please write this in Urdu so yours political leadership able to understand most of them are matic pass pleas thanks

  11. اچھا مضمون. بجلی کے شعبے اور ایف بی آر، بحالی اور بڑی عوامی علاقے کے ادیموں اور سرکاری اخراجات میں سادگی کی اصلاحات میں اصلاحات کو آگے بڑھانے کا واحد راستہ ہے، ٹیکس کے دائرے کے وسیع، ترسیلات زر کی آمد میں اضافہ کرنے کی راہ میں حائل رکاوٹیں ہٹانے کے، غیر ملکی سرمایہ کاری کو اپنی طرف متوجہ کرنے کے لئے امن وامان کو بہتر بنانے کے

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