PM wants IMF team invited to discuss current, new loan deals

Mehtab Haider & Muhammad Anis & Asim Yasin, Muhammad Saleh Zaafir & Rana Ghulam Qadir
Tuesday, Mar 05, 2024

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif sprang into action soon after assuming his office as the 24th prime minister of Pakistan, here on Monday.

In a lengthy maiden meeting on the economy, held within hours after his oath-taking ceremony, he issued a set of directives, focusing on revival of the bleeding economy. He granted a go-ahead for inviting the IMF team and kickstarting parleys for completion of the ongoing Standby Arrangement and requesting a new three-year deal with the Fund, simultaneously.

The finance secretary briefed PM Shehbaz Sharif on the current economic situation of the country, which is passing through one of the most testing times — both politically and economically. “We were given a mandate to improve the country’s economy [...] this is our government’s top priority,” said the premier in the meeting in which he ordered for formulating emergency steps for economic revival.

He reiterated his government’s unwavering commitment to promote investment opportunities and facilitating the business community. He said economic revitalisation stands as the foremost priority of his administration, highlighting the urgent need for decisive action to address pressing economic concerns. He stressed the importance of providing necessary infrastructure and support to entrepreneurs and investors to foster a conducive business environment. The PM also underscored the government’s resolve to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and create an enabling environment for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Discussions during the briefing revolved around key economic indicators, challenges, and potential solutions to stimulate economic recovery. The Federal Board of Revenue’s clearance of tax refunds totalling Rs65 billion was also announced, reflecting the government’s proactive measures to ease financial burdens on taxpayers and stimulate economic activity.

In line with the government’s agenda to streamline operations and enhance efficiency, Shehbaz ordered for formation of E-committee to rationalise membership on government boards. Moreover, directives were issued to expedite transition to smart metering in the power and gas sectors, aimed at reducing line losses and improving service delivery.

The session concluded with a commitment to ongoing dialogue and collaboration with stakeholders across sectors to chart a path towards sustainable economic growth and prosperity. Beside others, dignitaries, including Senator Masood Malik, Members of the National Assembly Atta Tarar, Shiza Fatima, Rominah Khurshid, Ahad Cheema, Jehanzib Khan, also attended the meeting.

It transpired at the meeting that soon after formation of the federal cabinet, the IMF team would be invited to hold crucial parleys in Islamabad. The premier would have to select his cabinet ministers including finance minister and renowned banker Mohammad Aurangzeb has become the front-runner in the race. Although PMLN stalwart Ishaq Dar is still in the race, interestingly in the maiden meeting, Mohammad Aurangzeb was present on Monday evening. Ali Pervez Malik, MNA from Lahore was also present in the meeting on the economic issues.

Outgoing caretaker finance minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar was also present in the oath-taking ceremony. “There is possibility of renowned banker Mohammad Aurangzeb becoming part of the upcoming economic team, probably leading one to run the economy,” one top official said. The biggest challenge for the upcoming finance minister would be clinching a staggering deal with the IMF under three-year EFF. The PM, in his maiden meeting, also directed the relevant authorities to kick-start negotiations with the IMF for striking fresh deal with the IMF. At the moment, the ongoing $3 billion SBA programme is scheduled to be completed on April 12, 2024; so it is yet to be seen whether Islamabad prefers to complete the ongoing SBA programme by securing its last tranche of $1.1 billion or starts parleys for new three-year EFF programme.

Mohammad Aurangzeb joined HBL on April 30, 2018 as the president and the chief executive officer (CEO). Before that, Aurangzeb was the CEO of JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank, based in Asia, with a rich international banking experience of over 30 years in other senior management roles at ABN AMRO and RBS based in Amsterdam and Singapore. Aurangzeb is the only Pakistani to be invited to the exclusive membership of the Global CEO Council, organised by the WSJ / DowJones group and has been elected as the chairman of the Pakistan Banks’ Association and director of the Pakistan Business Council. He received his BS and MBA degrees from The Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania).

Earlier, on his arrival at the Prime Minister’s House, Shehbaz Sharif was presented guard of honour by a smartly-turned-out contingent of the armed forces. The newly-elected PM was introduced to the PM Office staff. Shehbaz also met Anwaarul Haq Kakar, who relinquished the charge as the caretaker prime minister. He lauded measures taken by the caretaker government in leadership of Anwaarul Kakar for progress of country and also expressed good wishes for him. Later, Kakar was also presented the farewell guard of honour.

Earlier, PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif took the oath as the prime minister of Pakistan. President Dr Arif Alvi administered him the oath, who was elected as PM for the second time. The oath-taking ceremony was attended by governors, chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, outgoing caretaker PM Kakar and his cabinet members, parliamentarians, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, services chiefs, and diplomats.

PMLN Quaid Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians President Asif Ali Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, other political leaders including Hamza Shehbaz, Aleem Khan, Raja Zafarul Haq, Ahsan Iqbal and Khawaja Asif, and senior officers also attended the ceremony. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has started consultations for the formation of the cabinet. The formation will be finalized on Thursday.

The Prime Minister called a meeting on Monday for an overall review of the country’s economy. The important issue is that former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was not present in the meeting, but former Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Senator Musadik Malik was called for consultation. The Prime Minister gave him the first seat. There is a strong possibility that Dr. Musadik Malik will be entrusted with the portfolio of the Ministry of Finance. Ahad Cheema was also called in the meeting. The Prime Minister has decided to make Cheema his adviser. He will sit in the Prime Minister’s Office. Atta Tarar is likely to be made the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Khawaja Asif the Minister of Defence, Ishaq Dar the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Ahsan Iqbal the Minister of Planning and Development. Rana Tanveer Hussain and Shaza Fatima Khawaja will also be part of the cabinet. Jahanzeb Khan will be the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema and Chaudhry Salik Hussain of the Muslim League (Shujaat Hussain) will also join the cabinet. Two ministers of the MQM will also be taken.

Abdul Aleem Khan of the Istehkam Pakistan Party will also join the cabinet. In the first phase, PPP will not join the cabinet. It will take the ministries in the second phase. Meanwhile, various world leaders felicitated the prime minister on his election as the PM for the second time. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud congratulated Shehbaz Sharif on taking oath of his office. He wished him and the people of Pakistan success and steady progress and prosperity.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi congratulated Shehbaz Sharif on his election as the PM. In his felicitation message, he expressed determination to further strengthen the relationship between both Islamic brotherly countries. Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim also made a telephone call to Shehbaz Sharif to congratulate him on assuming responsibilities as country’s premier. He invited PM Shehbaz to visit Malaysia. Also, President of Republic of Turkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoan called PM Shehbaz Sharif and congratulated him on his election as the PM.

The two leaders also exchanged views on the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and reaffirmed their commitment for a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Palestinian question anchored in international law and in line with relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions. US Ambassador in Islamabad Donald Blome also congratulated Shehbaz Sharif on assuming his office. “I extend my congratulations to Shehbaz Sharif on his assumption of office as Prime Minister of Pakistan,” he said. Blome said he looked forward to working closely with the government and people of Pakistan on mutual interests. Saudi ambassador Nawaf bin Saeed Al-Maliky while talking to The News, said Shehbaz Sharif was a true friend and brother. “I extend my heartfelt congratulations to him on assuming the prestigious office.” Kuwaiti Ambassador Nassar Abdulrahman J. Almutairi and Bahrain’s Ambassador Mohamed Ebrahim Mohamed Abdulqader, who is also dean of the Arab envoys, felicitated Shehbaz Sharif. Nepal’s Ambassador Tapas Adhikari said the election and assuming of the office by Shehbaz Sharif was a good omen for Pakistan’s democracy and that is flourishing, he added. The Indian acting high commissioner was conspicuous with her absence from the ceremony although she was invited for the occasion.

APP adds: Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday that Pakistan, under the leadership of PM Shehbaz Sharif, and the new government, could achieve a greater accomplishment in the cause of national development. “We believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Shehbaz and the new administration, Pakistan can achieve a greater agreement in nation-building,” Mao Ning said during her regular briefing in response to a question asked by APP. Felicitating Shehbaz Sharif, she said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang had sent congratulatory messages to him. Also, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon Monday congratulated PM Shehbaz Sharif, emphasising that through joint efforts, both the countries would enhance and expand long-term bilateral partnership. “I wish you, dear friend and brother, good health and great new successes in implementation of your plans for the sustainable social and economic development of Pakistan, raising the well-being of the people of the friendly country as well as strengthening its reputation in the international arena,” the Tajik president said in a congratulatory message. He also invited the prime minister to visit Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Monday congratulated Shehbaz Sharif, saying he was looking forward to working with him on a number of issues. “We congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on assuming the post of Prime Minister of Pakistan and we look forward to continuing cooperation with the country on a wide array of issues,” Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief’s spokesperson, said in an email to APP.