THE Nawa-i-Waqt Group's pre-budget seminar in Lahore on Saturday was revealing for the broad level of consensus amongst the varied participants on what they anticipated in the coming budget and what they felt were the major problems confronting Pakistan's economy. Amongst the major issues, almost all the participants highlighted the low tax to GDP ratio and the need to increase progressive direct taxation while reducing indirect taxation which puts an unfair and heavier burden on the poorer segments of society. Unfortunately, most participants also conceded that this government was not going to alter the manner in which the present burden of taxation falls primarily on the poor rather than the rich. VAT was also seen as a negative addition and inflationary; and, as Ishaq Dar pointed out, it would not even bring about the revenues the government and IMF anticipate because of the structural shortcomings. There was also a consensus on the need to cut non-developmental expenditures and reduce financial expenditures through austerity measures commencing from the top. While there was also agreement over the neglect of agriculture, few participants focused on this neglect, showing how over the years the agricultural sector's neglect has led to it being pushed off the national radar screen. However, one speaker did point out that agriculture and the service sector needs to be taxed properly, which in the former case meant taxation on produce not acreage. The diverse group expressed pessimism over the government's ability to move out of the clutches of the IMF, which would result in further distortions in the economy. The reality is that the government has handed over financial decision-making to IMF-supported economic managers who are determined to push us further into the IMF trap by talking of a new IMF agreement. To lure Pakistan in, the IMF has okayed the release of $ 1.13b - third tranche of its loan - while also agreeing to grant waivers for overruns on budget deficit. However, the costly downside is the commitment by the new financial adviser to ensure VAT and a 6% power tariff hike at all costs by July1 - which threatens to further destabilise the country. A new IMF agreement means ransoming future generations of Pakistanis to a debt burden that is unnecessary, immoral and debilitating. The World Bank also, in its assistance earmarked for Pakistan, has ignored the Bhasha Dam - a vital component of relieving Pakistan of its water and energy crises. Foreign organisations have foreign priorities. Agriculture, which if given proper support, could lead to surpluses for export, is deliberately being dealt a slow and painful death to profit special interests. It would serve the country better if for once a sincere effort was made to end corruption, wastage and reduce non-developmental expenditure while developing the country's sufficient natural resources and its technological skills. Till then, our economy will remain in the throes of foreign debt and underdevelopment.