Pursuit for technocrats

The Prime Minister after replacing the finance minister Asad Umer, Governor State Bank Tariq Bajwa has also been shown the door by obtaining his resignation. He was appointed by the previous government for the tenure of three years which cannot be curtailed. A news report in a leading English daily newspaper has hinted that an executive of International Monetary fund may be picked to fill the vacant slot of Governor State Bank. There are indications that Advisor to the Prime Minster on finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh is making his own team of economic mangers to get rid of the loyalists of economic hit-man Ishaq Dar. If he succeeds in inducting the technocrats of his choice as Governor Central Bank, and then the experts of economy and finance from Breton wood would manage the precarious economic situation left as legacy by the two previous governments.

Another top level causality in the federal bureaucracy is the transfer of Jehanzeb Khan Chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). There is probability that his successor will be appointed from among the senior officers of either Custom Group or Inland Revenue Services Group. As the outgoing Chairman FBR was from Pakistan Administrative Service, the officers of Custom and Inland Revenue Groups did not fully cooperate with him to meet the revenue generation targets. The FBR missed the tax collection target by Rs. 325 billion in the 10 months of current fiscal year.

Against the huge revenue shortfall, public debt surged by Rs. 3.6 trillion pushing the total amount of public debt to Rs.27.8 trillion, which will increase budget deficit to 7 percent of the GDP. Currently, the government is facing squeeze of fiscal space which necessitated slashing of Public Sector Development Programme. The IMF staff level team in its recent visit advised the Planning Commission to refrain from further slashing of the development programme and protect it at the existing level in the next fiscal year. It remains to be seen how far the incoming FBR Chairman would succeed in improving the revenue collection when hardly two months are left to the closing of financial year.

There is perception that top bureaucrat who were close to former finance minster of PML-N government, Ishaq Dar were allowed to continue their incumbencies and it were they who contributed to failure of PTI government on the economic front. Hopefully, a thorough overhaul will be done in the finance ministry at the top tier. Moreover, the dismal performance of FBR, particularly of Inland Revenue service Department must also be taken into account and responsibility fixed for low tax collection. It is pertinent to mention that it were the technocrats like Dr. Salman Shah in the finance ministry and Ahad Yousaf in the FBR in the government of President Musharraf that the number of active taxpayers went up to 2.4 million which then dropped to less than 1.2 million in Nawaz Sharif previous government. In the present government it has gone up slightly over 1.3 million. It is also necessary to reconstitute the Economic Advisory Council by excluding the loyalist of the previous government. The council is either virtually dysfunctional or its input is not considered for addressing the macroeconomic imbalances confronting the economy.