ISLAMABAD - Finance Minister Ishaq Dar yesterday hinted at delay in population and housing census on account of unavailability of military personnel who are engaged in the operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“I have asked the chief census commissioner to coordinate with the relevant authorities and submit a full action plan on the issue within three days,” he said and added the government would consult experts and technical people to seek credibility for census in the absence of the army in the exercise.

He dispelled the impression that the government had built its foreign exchange reserves by borrowing from the International Monetary Fund. “We have received $5.27 billion from the IMF and returned $4.42 billion to it,” Dar said, addressing a press conference along with Special Assistant to Prime Minister Haroon Akhtar and FBR Chairman Nisar Khan. He also rejected the speculations that the government was borrowing at a higher rate.

“We had borrowed external loans at interest rate of only 3.3 percent,” he claimed. Talking about the total debt, the finance minister said it had increased by Rs 3,800 billion during the tenure of the incumbent government by reaching Rs 18,264 billion in November last from Rs 14,400 billion. Similarly, the foreign debt rose by $ 3.2 billion to $ 51.31 billion from $ 48.13 billion, he added.

On a question that the government had shelved plans to private its power supply companies, Dar said the government could opt for any plan to make them profitable. “We can have the option of strategic partnership for power supply companies,” he remarked.

He further said the country’s GDP growth could be affected due to the less production of cotton bales this year. “We are trying to take growth to over 5 percent during the ongoing financial year,” he added. The GDP target for the current fiscal year is 5.5 percent.

Talking about the National Finance Commission award, he said the Ministry of Finance had moved a summary to the President for reconstituting the commission as the federal government had received the name of a technical member from the Punjab.

He revealed Saudi Arabia was also interested in making China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-like investment in Pakistan. A technical delegation of Saudi Arabia would visit Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in the country in next three weeks, he added.

Dar further said the government would have to make legislation to restrict debt to GDP below 50 percent in next few years. The government is continuously breaching the Fiscal Debt Limitation Act as debt to GDP ratio is over 60 percent.

Dar said he had rejected the IMF’s demand to increase the gas and electricity prices. He further said Pakistan had met five performance criteria of the IMF.

Highlighting the economic performance of the country, Dar said the country’s foreign exchange reserves had surged to $ 20.27 billion which were enough for four-month imports. He said the government had brought down the budget deficit to 5.37 percent of the GDP during 2014-2015 from 8.8 percent of the GDP. The government would further reduce it to 4.3 percent of the GDP during the ongoing fiscal year.

Dar said tax collection during the second quarter of the current financial year exceeded the target by Rs 35 billion. He said tax collection during the first six months of the year was 1,385 billion against the target of Rs 1,390 billion.

The minister said tax collection grew by 18.2% during six months, which was the highest in the history of the country. He pointed out the tax collection growth was recorded at 20% in January this year.

GOVT TO ENSURE FUNDS FOR NEW S

ECURITY DIVISION: DAR

INP adds: Senior officials of the Pakistan Army held a meeting with Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar here yesterday and discussed progress on various development schemes of the army.

Matters relating to financing and release of funds for raising of new security division as well as additional 28 security battalions also came under discussion.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the government attached highest importance to security matters. He assured provision of funds for the new security division and additional battalions and the development schemes being undertaken by Pakistan Army.

Senior officials of the Ministry of Finance attended the meeting.