ISLAMABAD - All political parties should put the privatisation of public sector entities (PSEs) on top of their manifesto for the forthcoming general elections, said Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance Dr Miftah Ismail.

“Whoever comes in power after elections should have the mandate to freely implement privatisation reforms agenda without unnecessary opposition,” said Miftah Ismail while speaking at pre-budget symposium-2018 organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with FES Pakistan here on Monday. He further said that public sector entities are giving losses of hundred of billion of rupees to the national kitty every year. He informed that incumbent government had initiated the process of privatiaing Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which is giving Rs45 billion loss every year. However, no political party had supported the government for privatising PIA. Later, the government had halted the process. Similarly, he informed that power distribution companies are contributing billion of rupees losses to the national kitty.

“To fight poverty significantly, Pakistan has to grow at 8 percent. For that we have to change the way we have been doing in the past,” he said, adding that the current governance model is not measuring up to the expectation of the people, which requires changes. The country should grow at 10 percent for next 20 years for bringing change in people’s lives.

“Under tax amnesty scheme, we are giving the tax evaders a chance to declare their undeclared wealth”, he said and added: “With the help of NADRA, we have identified and prepared a list of tax evaders, especially in the real estate and hoping to have a large number of evaders into the tax net. We are enabling a system in which only those can buy properties or plots who are tax filers, otherwise, one cannot buy any piece of the land.”

Speaking later, Sartaj Aziz, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission of Pakistan, said, “Owing to CPEC related activities, improved energy security and law and order situation, we are hoping to have more than 6 percent growth rate this year. We have increased the development budget portfolio by three times in last five years.” He added, “Our development budget was very much inclusive in terms of human and people centric development. To sustain growth trajectory, we may require more investments in basic infrastructure development.”

Dr Abid Qayuim Suleri, Executive Director SDPI, said at the moment when the growth rate is sustainable and growing, there is dire need of depoliticizing Pakistan’s economy. “Instead criticizing, the opposition political parties should come up with alternative budget proposals”, he said, adding that all major political parties should have political consensus on major economic issues.

Earlier, Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director SDPI, said though the government has announced the tax policy much earlier than the announcement of budget, a greater focus is required on improving tax administration. He said SDPI's enterprise survey reveals that tax compliance costs have increased over the past four years, which has particularly hurt the micro, small and medium enterprises. “Our research suggests that Ministry of Finance should focus on how the upcoming budget can help improve economic growth and job creation prospects in the country”, he said, adding that this can be done by focusing on 5 key growth levers which include: services sector exports; construction and low-cost housing; incentivizing capital stuck in undocumented economy to become part of formal economy; investing in critical infrastructure such as electricity, water and sanitation in the rural areas; and enhancing export potential of agro-based industry.

Dr Vaqar said the government in budget 2018-19 can focus on how to improve effectiveness and efficiency of public expenditure. He said in a recent book, Pakistan's Agenda for Economic Reforms, published by the Oxford University Press, we recommended: a) increasing government capacity to spend public money in economically backward regions, b) better managing cost and time overruns, c) removing multiplicity in projects approved under federal and provincial governments, and d) improving feasibility and approval process to avoid politically motivated projects.

Abdul Qadir, senior advisor FES Pakistan, said an inclusive and dynamic economy can ensure sustainable economic growth. “The role of the state is more important in enhancing human resource development as per need of the economy”, he said, adding that the political environment is crucial for the economy to grow, where democratic discussion and involvement of the general public in economic policy making discourse is of greater importance. The challenges of our economy and society warrant immediate measure to taken, he added.

Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, founding director Children's Global Network, said: “Over the past many decades, despite many major reforms, we have yet to achieve universal quality primary education in the country, which shows dismal state of education in our country.” She said there is need to keep education issue alive in our political and budget discourse. “Unfortunately, we have no state umbrella in form of funds to achieve universal primary education, and lagging far behind in the region”, she lamented, adding that there are 60 percent primary school children who opt for private schools rather public schools, which shows public schools inefficiency and poor quality of education. There is dire need of creating a national task force which ensures universal quality primary education in the country, she added.