ISLAMABAD: The National Economic Council (NEC), under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Tuesday, directed the provinces to close down shops and all other commercial activities by 8pm, replace bulbs with LED lights and place efficient geysers to save $1 billion under the energy conservation plan. The NEC, in its meeting, approved national development outlay of Rs2.79 trillion for the next budget 2023-24. The federal share of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) has been put at Rs1.15 trillion and Provinces’ Annual Development Outlay to the tune of Rs1.64 trillion.
Addressing a press briefing after the NEC meeting here at the P Block, Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal hoped that the national development outlay might cross the Rs3 trillion mark because Punjab and KP-led interim governments would be presenting just four-months budget, so in totality it would further go up. Ahsan said the development budget was planned in the larger interest of the country and the IMF should not have any objections to it. It was planned to align with the fiscal requirements. The NEC approved Rs90 billion for Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme for parliamentarians in the next budget against the revised estimates of Rs111 billion in the outgoing fiscal.
Flanked by Secretary Planning Syed Zafar Ali Shah and Chief Economist Dr Nadeem Javaid, Ahsan Iqbal said it was their constitutional right to present the whole fiscal year budget but the provinces of Punjab and KP would present just interim period budgets. The NEC also granted approval on the macroeconomic framework, including GDP growth of 3.5 percent and inflation at 21 percent for the next budget 2023-24.The NEC, the highest economic decision-making forum of the country, also granted its approval for launching 5Es Framework and 2035 Outlook, which was described by the minister for planning as a “defining moment” for the country as the nation would have to take a decision whether to maintain the status quo in the next 10 years by adhering to $570 billion economy and 40pc poverty or jack up the size of the economy up to $1 trillion and reduce poverty to 15 percent by 2035. “The pre-requisite for achieving the milestone of clinching a growth rate of six to eight percent on per annum basis will ensure political stability,” Ahsan Iqbal said.
The minister for planning said that the crash landing of the economy was forced mainly because the last government increased the import bill up to $82 billion with a trade deficit that touched $50 billion mark, which resulted in eating away the foreign exchange reserves. As such, the rupee got under pressure against the US dollar. He said despite the damage brought to the economy by the previous government, the PDM government has been able to stabilise it with hard work. The NEC approved 5Es, including boosting up exports from $30 billion to $100 billion mark. He said it remains to be seen how to achieve $100 billion in exports in the next 12 to 15 years or accomplish the desired task in the next five years to achieve take-off of the economy.The second is e-Pakistan in order to ensure digital transformation, the third E is environment for working on improving climate change. He said that water and food security would be ensured.The federal minister said the government would launch the National Flood Protection Programme. Under the climate change protection, he said, the government would launch a $400 million donor-funded programme in Balochistan for rehabilitation in the flood-affected areas. He said cooperative farming will be kick-started.
Under the fourth E, the government would slash its reliance on fossil fuel as Saudi Arabia recently reduced its production, paving the way for increased POL prices in the international market up to $100 per barrel till the end of the year. Now the government would not construct new plants on imported fuel. The energy conservation strategy will be implemented in collaboration with the provinces under which shops and other commercial activities would be closed down till 8 pm.The minister said when the developed world could not afford the luxury of keeping open commercial centres late at night, so how a country like Pakistan could afford to waste its hard-earned foreign exchange on the lighting of commercial areas till midnight.
The fifth E is equity in the development paradigm as the government allocated Rs100 billion for the development of the poorest 20 districts of the country. The government would launch a programme for youth so that they avoided incidents like damaging of the Jinnah House.On the PSDP for the next budget, Ahsan said the government allocated the highest-ever funding of Rs59.7 billion for the Higher Education Commission, water sector Rs110 billion, Rs61 billion for AJK and GB and for merged Fata areas Rs57 billion. He said the prime minister would launch a special programme for controlling hepatitis and diabetes in the next three years.Regarding the PSDP, he said the federal government would finance Rs137 billion in development projects in Balochistan, Rs80 billion in Sindh and Rs79 billion in Punjab.
When asked about CM Balochistan boycotting the NEC meeting, Ahsan Iqbal said the CM was not feeling well but their minister, along with his team, was present in the meeting. He said the government allocated Rs25 billion for the education sector and it would launch a programme to bring 20 million out-of-school children to schools.
For food and agriculture, the government allocated Rs45 billion.For flood-related projects under 4RF, he said the Sindh government would execute development projects of Rs345 billion, Balochistan Rs4 billion, KP Rs84 billion and Punjab Rs29 billion in the next budget. For female labour force participation, the government would launch a programme for distributing 22,000 scooters among females. To another query about Health Card Scheme introduced by the last PTI-led regime, the minister replied that the prime minister has constituted a special committee to rationalise the scheme as it was available equally to owners of Mercedes and bicycles and such a scheme was not even available in the US.The minister conceded that there were immense fiscal challenges confronting the country as the net federal receipts were unable to finance the debt servicing bill. He said debt servicing was projected to consume Rs7.5 trillion while the net federal revenue receipts would be standing at Rs6.9 trillion in the next budget.To another query, he said that the NEC granted approval for meeting procedural requirements for the inclusion of development projects on the PSDP list till the end of June, so all those projects that could be cleared within the given stipulated timeframe would remain on the PSDP list.
He said the government allocated Rs45 billion for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. The government could not utilise the allocated funds for the development of 20 poorest districts in the outgoing fiscal year because the UNDP was assigned to identify gaps. But now they undertook surveys and accomplished the task in 10 selected districts, gaps were identified in development needs and projects would be executed.
To another query as to who would give 10 years of surety for achieving envisaged goals under the 2035 Outlook, the minister replied that there was no need for surety as the government would lay it down before parliament, political parties and media to achieve ownership. According to Geo News sources, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar briefed the prime minister about budgetary targets set by the NEC. The budget has been prepared with a 7.7 percent deficit, which will be Rs6 trillion. According to the sources, Rs1,800 billion has been proposed for the defence budget and Rs430 billion for the Benazir Income Support Programme. The tax collection target for the FBR would be Rs9.2 trillion and non-tax revenue would be Rs2.8 trillion.
Separately, chairing a high-level meeting on the promotion of the Information Technology sector, PM Shehbaz directed relevant authorities to include mega incentives for the IT sector in the fiscal budget 2023-24 to boost the country’s IT exports. He directed to prepare a big package for the sector in the upcoming fiscal budget.
The prime minister decided to introduce a fixed tax regime in the budget and also constituted a committee on it, besides directing the body to submit its recommendations immediately, PM Office Media Wing said in a press release.
The meeting also accorded approval in principle for providing special incentives to new business start-ups in the sector. Special concessions for the promotion of business and trade through modern technology were also approved.During the meeting, it was also decided to take the initiatives crucial to encourage youth for starting their own businesses. The prime minister approved a major decision of creating special training IT zones for promoting entrepreneurship. He said that the government would spend a huge amount on the training of youth in the sector. Currently, a total of 45,000 young people across the country were being trained in the sector, he added.
The prime minister further said that in the upcoming fiscal budget, the government would distribute 100,000 laptops among the youth on merit. During the previous tenure of the PMLN government, they had distributed laptops among the country’s youth and by utilising this facility, the young people had increased the foreign reserves during the Covid pandemic, he observed.Shehbaz Sharif further set a target for the IT sector to increase its exports up to the tune of $4.5 billion for the next year. IT experts including Asif Pir, Zohaib Khan, Naseer Akhtar, PTCL CEO, Jazz VP and Telenor deputy CEO also attended the meeting. The prime minister directed the inclusion of all the IT-related recommendations in the upcoming fiscal budget, adding that their approval would create massive job opportunities for the youth. He also directed the authorities to take measures essential to provide special guidance and government assistance to the youth for setting up new companies in the sector. The prime minister also directed for organising the IT sector roadshows abroad to sensitise the world about the facilities being offered by the sector in Pakistan.
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