Bilawal pledges to rebuild ‘staggering’ economy


ISLAMABAD: Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday unveiled the party’s manifesto and pledged strong reforms in agriculture, trade, industry, natural resource management, energy, taxation and infrastructure sectors for rebuilding the staggering economy.

Bilawal said this while addressing a press conference here at National Press Club along with PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, Qamar Zaman Kaira, former Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Sherry Rehman, Nayyer Hussain Bokhari and others.

“Everywhere in today’s Pakistan is a pile-up of issues and we will present solutions to resolve all of these problems,” said the PPP chairman. “Our manifesto is Bibi Ka Wada Nibhana Hai, Pakistan Bachana Hai [honoring Benazir Bhutto’s promise will save Pakistan].”

Bilawal said, “We need ideas for economic restructuring and growth, for rebuilding an economy that works for all of our people over and beyond the crisis management that is to come. He said if his party comes into power, it would take immediate measures for an independent and rigorous assessment of the macroeconomic situation including public debt, external imbalances and fiscal imbalance. He said, “We will set up a working group of Pakistani experts on all aspects of the economic crisis and devise a mechanism for evolving consensus on a basic national economic reforms agenda for the medium-term.

About consensus for a basic national economic reform agenda, the PPP chairman said that a joint parliamentary committee of both houses, with representation from all major parties, will be constituted to prepare a basic national economic agenda which will incorporate points of agreement and consensus on issues of national economic importance to ensure cross-party commitment to broad parameters of reforms on taxation, government spending and public debt. He said that other immediate corrective measures will include steps for expanding the fiscal space and foreign exchange availability.

About exports and foreign exchange earnings, Bilawal said that to enhance competitiveness of export sector, surcharges for the five export-oriented sectors will be rationalized, (i) All free trade agreements (FTAs) will be reviewed, (ii) Export Development Fund (EDF) will be given to the Ministry of Commerce and managed by an independent board of private exporters, while an independent third-party evaluation of EDF will also be conducted, (iii) established foreign brands will be facilitated to develop their foreign buying offices near Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot, Multan, Peshawar and Islamabad airports, (iv) exclusive economic zones will be established wherein foreign companies, on their own or with local joint ventures, would establish factories on the condition that at least fifty per cent of the goods manufactured would be exported; (v) and trading arrangements involving currency swaps will be pursued to reduce dependence on foreign currencies.

About public finance, he said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) will be restructured by turning it into three separate entities namely direct tax authority, sales tax authority and customs authority in order to avoid any administrational disharmony within the FBR and for evaluation of the performance of each authority against its specified targets. He said that tax rebates for non-export oriented sectors will be withdrawn.

About agriculture sector, the PPP chairman said that agricultural sector not only provides food to the people but also supplies raw materials which sustain manufacturing sector and exports. He said that the true potential for agriculture has remained unfulfilled due to the lack of policy attention and erratic decision-making in recent years. He said that agriculture occupies a central position in national economic programme.

He said, “As part of our pledge to rebuild an economy that works for all, we will reinvigorate the sector through an ambitious Zarai Inqilab Renewal Strategy built around three objectives: (i) hunger eradication and food security, (ii) livelihoods and poverty reduction and (ii) economic growth and restructuring.”

He said that Zarai Inqilab Renewal Strategy will be based on providing support to the agricultural sector to achieve these objectives and providing direct support to specific segments of the agricultural economy, such as small farmers, agricultural labor, women agricultural workers, and farmers in marginalized regions.

He said, “We will make registration of farmers and agricultural workers under the Benazir Kissan Card scheme. We will overhaul the price support system and crop insurance scheme for small farmers. We will give subsidies and ensure one window operation for accessing government facilities and market linkages.” He said that legal recognition and registration of women agricultural workers will be made under the Benazir Women Agricultural Workers Programme. Reform of the agriculture, livestock and fisheries extension services will address the needs of small farmers, agricultural laborers and women agricultural workers, he said, adding expansion of drip irrigation and other forms of efficient water use will be undertaken.

He said that the Benazir Kissan Card will be used for the delivery of various services as well as other engagements including: (i) direct credit subsidy to small farmers from Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), (ii) subsidized fertilizer and electricity to small farmers, (iii) vouchers to sugarcane farmers guaranteeing payment at harvest, (iv) crop insurance scheme for small farmers, (v) targeted provision of subsidized drip irrigation technology, (vi) ensuring equitable access to price support subsidy, (vi) access to a range of reformed and upgraded extension and veterinary services, (vii) administration of various subsidies as well as the simplified administration of agricultural user charges and taxes, (viii) policies for improving market access and value addition, (ix) and subsidized access to farm tools and other relevant agricultural machinery.

He said, “We, therefore, propose legal recognition of women agricultural workers and their registration under the Benazir Women Agricultural Workers Programme. Legal recognition will explicitly include entitlements and supportive measures which cover: (i) individual right to pay, and the right to equal and minimum wages, (ii) working conditions, (iii) government-funded entitlements to maternity leave and benefits, (iv) mechanisms for wage setting arbitration in major seasonal crop activities such as harvesting, (v) group formation and recognition of Benazir Women Agricultural Workers (BWAW) groups as beneficiaries of various government programmes for agriculture, (vi) priority to women agricultural workers for allotment of state-owned land for agriculture, (vii) reinforcement of women’s independent ownership of productive assets, including livestock, through proper documentation, (viii) directed investment in the livestock sector for women agricultural workers, (ix) engagement with reformed agricultural and livestock extension and veterinary services such as investing in female veterinarians and provision of door-to-door livestock extension services, (x) and market linkages of BWAW groups with the local supply elements of the Hunger Eradication Programme - particularly with respect to the local production and sale of poultry eggs.

About water, the PPP chief said that water is an essential resource for the country’s economic development. It is not only needed to support efficient irrigation systems in the agriculture sector, but is also an important resource for the functioning of industries and urban centers. He said that climate change trends indicate that Pakistan may run dry by 2025, with a 50 per cent gap between demand and supply.

He said, “We will address this in a comprehensive manner across multiple dimensions; (i) efficiency and conservation, (ii) augmenting supply by investing in new technologies, (iii) improving water quality management, (iv) and addressing waterlogging and salinity.

He said that PPP will live up to its commitments by investing in the lining of canals, effective storage and irrigation systems including promotion of drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, public awareness campaigns for the efficient utilization of water and the treatment of sewage plants.

He said that Bhasha Dam is of immense economic value to Pakistan and therefore PPP’s focus will be to raise funds to finance this important project. He said, “We need to invest in technologies that serve the agricultural sector and domestic users.” He said that in continuing to utilize new technologies, one of key focus areas will be to invest in seawater desalination projects to reduce supply shortages.

About industrial policy, the PPP leader said that Pakistan’s declining manufacturing base is a cause of serious concern. Manufacturing as a share of GDP has declined from close to 20 per cent to 13.5 per cent. He said that the PPP government will prioritize the revival of these industries through the following measures; (i) devising a rehabilitation scheme through the State Bank of Pakistan for the revival of economically viable but closed sick units, (ii) and ensuring proper supply and viable tariffs on electricity to remove the energy bottlenecks that the industries have suffered.

He said that the PPP government would identify sectors where the possibility of creating a niche market for exports is possible or where the development of intermediate and capital inputs will benefit the consumer goods industry. He said that the identified sectors will be provided credit through a direct credit line created by the State Bank of Pakistan. He said that in addition to credit, other infrastructural matters for these industries will also be provided on a priority basis by the government. He said that in order to avoid practices of the past, where subsidies were indefinitely provided to industries, incentives for diversification will be time-bound and performance-based.

About trade policy, the PPP chairman said that the country’s exports have been on a downward spiral touching US $20.7 billion in 2016-17. This dismal performance on the exports front is central to Pakistan’s vulnerability on the external balance of payments.

He said that there is a need not only to arrest this sharp decline in exports but also to restructure exports in the medium and long terms. Short-term measures to provide a boost to exports will require:- (i) immediate payment of all rebates to the export sector, and to get rid of the refund system and all export-oriented sectors will be zero rated, (ii) prompt provision of electricity at subsidized rates to the export sector in order to enhance their competitiveness, (iii) and maintaining a market based exchange rate policy to create a balance between the interests of exporters and importers.

He said that the PPP government will provide special incentives for the promotion of non-traditional and high value added exports.

About health, the PPP leader said that the PPP will provide effective health management system. He said that family health services would link all elements of health provisioning into a unified individual centered system. He said that health data management at union council and district levels will be ensured.

About education, he said that the PPP would bring reforms in curriculum and encourage the use of technology and social-emotional leaning. The PPP also foster centers that can provide career counseling and develop workplaces skill of communication, leadership, collaboration etc. The PPP will also improve quality of education, he pledged.

About energy sector reforms, he said that according to party manifesto, the PPP will adopt a four-pronged strategy for addressing the energy requirements of a growing population and economy on a sustainable basis, by providing adequate, affordable and progressively cleaner energy to all. This four-pronged strategy includes; (i) diversification of energy mix, (ii) prioritizing efficiency and conservation, (iii) revamping transmission and distribution, (iv) and rationalizing oil and gas polices.

The PPP government in Sindh has already initiated the Thar Coal project through a public-private partnership. Once on-stream, 12 blocks alone will generate up to 48,000MW of electricity and contribute towards the diversification of the energy mix away from imported furnace oil. Renewable energy, mainly through wind and solar, is another sources of affordable, green energy. The potential for wind energy in Sindh alone is 30,000MW. By 2023, wind and solar parks in Sindh will add at least 5,000MW to the national grid.

About tax measures, Bilawal said that it is possible to achieve 15 percent target of the tax-GDP ratio through the measures including making use of the proven effectiveness of provincial tax authorities by delegating the administration of federal taxes to them through a partnership between the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and provincial tax authorities. He said the free installation of point of sale (POS) system will be offered by the government for retail sector to improve documentation of economy.

Bilawal said that under a pro-active foreign policy, his party would highlight the human rights abuses being committed by the Indian forces in the Indian occupied Kashmir.

Earlier, former President Asif Ali Zardari said that his party’s government did developmental work in its tenure. “We gave Gwadar port to China from Singapore. Our manifesto primarily deals with saving Pakistan,” Zardari said.

“Foreign policy should be rooted in economic diplomacy,” the PPP co-chairman said. “Unfortunately the country had no foreign minister for as many as four years.”

The PPP leader announced to end ban on student and trade unions in the country.