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SIFC Vows to Take ‘Tough Decisions’ to Fix Economy

P.M. Sharif calls for united efforts to steer country out of prevailing crises

by Staff Report

Photo courtesy PID

The Apex Committee of the civil-military Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) on Thursday vowed to ensure continuation of economic policies and take tough decisions in the larger interest of the country through “correct” priorities.

Chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the meeting was attended by former caretaker premier Anwaarul Haq Kakar, Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir, members of the outgoing and new federal cabinet, provincial chief ministers, and high-level government officials.

According to an official statement, the meeting’s singular focus was briefing the cabinet in the presence of the interim cabinet to mark a “seamless” transition between the former government and the new one. It said the committee was briefed on the SIFC initiative and major contributions made toward attracting investment; privatization; and the overall microeconomic stabilization of the country.

The committee admired the leadership of the prime minister for envisioning and launching the SIFC in June 2023, noting it had now moved from its formative phase and evolved progressively under the caretaker government. It also underscored the need to continue a consensual approach under the SIFC to navigate the myriad challenges facing the country.

During the meeting, per the statement, the former caretaker prime minister congratulated the new prime minister, cabinet and chief ministers on assuming their responsibilities and wished them good luck in dealing with economic challenges and transforming Pakistan into one of the top economies of the world.

Army chief Gen. Munir, meanwhile, reassured the government of the armed forces’ fullest support for the government’s economic initiatives, adding a safe, secure and conducive environment would be ensured to nurture the country’s true economic potential.

P.M. Sharif said that SIFC was a necessary way forward under the prevailing challenges, stressing an iron resolve was needed to serve the country like never before. He urged the federal cabinet to unite, set aside their political differences, and work as a cohesive team to maintain the momentum of economic stability. He also thanked the caretaker government for continuation of larger national economic agenda in a befitting manner.

In an address, which was televised, the prime minister reiterated that the government was hoping to secure a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program for the next three years. “New tranche of loan is likely to be received from the IMF in a few days,” he said of the recently concluded final review of the $3 billion Stand-by Arrangement. “However, we would need another program,” he regretted.

Asserting that the former coalition government had prioritized the country over their politics, he warned of major challenges to the country’s economy. “The SIFC is an important platform which was primarily established to remove hurdles in foreign investments, and it held several meetings during the last eight months,” he said, praising the Army chief for his “vital” role in the SIFC’s formation.

Emphasizing the need to introduce reforms under the IMF program to achieve macroeconomic stability, Sharif noted that Pakistan had Rs. 9 trillion in revenue, “which should be Rs. 13-14 trillion.” He reiterated that the government would digitize the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and slammed electricity theft, stressing it cost the exchequer Rs. 400 billion annually. He praised the caretaker government for its anti-theft measures, noting Rs. 87 billion was saved through such measures.

Regretting that the electricity and gas circular debt had crossed Rs. 5 trillion, he urged unity to tackle the issue. “There is a coalition government in the center, whereas different political parties are ruling provinces. The center cannot counter all challenges alone, therefore we should set aside our political differences, and work together to pull the country out of crisis,” he emphasized.

Sharif also sought an expedited privatization process for loss-making state-owned entities, such as the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). “We have to take many bitter decisions,” he warned, adding subsidies for elites must be withdrawn, as the financial burden of the “tough decisions” should be shifted to segments who could bear it.

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