IMF delegates in Pakistan for talks on third bailout installment

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, receives IMF representatives at the Finance Division in Islamabad on Feb. 3, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Ministry of Finance and Revenue)
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Updated 04 February 2020

IMF delegates in Pakistan for talks on third bailout installment

  • Pakistan may seek relaxation of some targets amid soaring inflation, economists say
  • IMF review will allow disbursement of $450 million in March 2020

KARACHI: International Monetary Fund (IMF) representatives arrived in Islamabad on Monday for their second quarterly review of Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout program, confirmed the finance ministry in a statement. 

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, met with the IMF Staff Mission at the Finance Division.

The IMF team is scheduled to stay in Pakistan for 11 days to hold technical and policy talks with Pakistani authorities and evaluate the implementation of agreed economic targets.

The review would clear the way for the disbursement of $450 million in bailout funds in March 2020. Pakistan has already received about $991 million in July 2019 and another $452 million in December.

The review is taking place at a time when the government is suffering from revenue shortfalls and a leadership crisis at the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) – the country’s tax agency. The shortfall during the first seven months of the current fiscal year is more than Rs218 billion against the revised revenue target of Rs2.62 trillion.

“This time they seem worried about the leadership discontinuation at FBR,” said Vaqar Ahmed, director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

Pakistan also faces the challenges of structural reforms in the energy sector and on the privatization front, in which IMF “wanted to see speedy proceedings,” Ahmed told Arab News. “The process has started but still there is a far way to go complete it.”

Inflation continues to soar in Pakistan and has reached a higher-than-expected 14.6 percent rate in January 2020, which may also come under discussion as the IMF had forecast it at 13 percent. 

“I feel that due to high inflation the government may request IMF to relax some targets such as electricity and gas tariffs that are to be increased in the coming days,” Ahmed said.

However, some economists expect that Pakistan will not seek waivers other than those regarding tax collection targets, which have not been achieved due to the economic slowdown and import compression.

“We have outperformed at some areas such as net international reserves, current account, and foreign exchange reserves. The revenue collection targets were missed because the economy is slowing down and imports are declining,” senior economist Muzamil Aslam told Arab News, expressing confidence that the IMF review will not create any trouble for Pakistan. 

At the end of the first economic performance review in December, the IMF acknowledged that Pakistan’s reform program was progressing as planned.

South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

Updated 23 January 2021

South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

  • South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players
  • The South African player beleives Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi can pose problems for his team

ISLAMABAD: South African cricketer Faf du Plessis believes spending months in a bio-secure bubble could soon become a major challenge for players.

“We understand that this is a very tough season and a tough challenge for a lot of people out there, but if it’s back-to-back-to-back bubble life, things would become a big challenge,” du Plessis said during a virtual news conference on Saturday.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, cricketers have to adhere to strict procedures for an international series. In countries like Pakistan, international games are being played in empty stadiums and players' movement confined to just their hotel and stadiums.

Du Plessis is one of those South African cricketers, along with captain Quinton de Kock, to have experienced life in a bubble over the last few months. He played in the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates and home series against Sri Lanka. Now he has a two-test series in Pakistan, starting Tuesday in Karachi, followed by the second test at Rawalpindi.

“The main priority is to play cricket, to be out there doing what we love instead of being at home … so I think that still remains the most important thing. But I think there would definitely come a point where players would struggle with this (bubble)," du Plessis said.

“If you look at a calendar of the last eight months, you’re looking at about four or five months in a bubble, which is a lot. For some of us (being) without family, it can get challenging. Right now, I’m still in a good place. I’m still feeling really motivated and driven, but I can only speak for myself.

“I don’t think it’s possible to continue from bubble to bubble to bubble, I’ve seen and heard a lot of players talk about it. I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

The South African team practiced at the National Stadium -- the venue for the test opener -- for the first time on Saturday. Before that, the visitors had been practicing at a stadium close to the team hotel for the last four days where they played intra-squad matches.

“For now, (I'm) enjoying the four walls of my room and then the pitch outside where we can get to do what we love,” du Plessis said.

The 36-year-old du Plessis, who has appeared in 67 test matches for South Africa with a batting average topping 40, will be playing his first test in Pakistan since making his debut against Australia in 2012. Pakistan last hosted South Africa in 2007. In 2009 international cricket’s doors were shut on Pakistan after an attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team bus at Lahore.

Du Plessis has played seven test matches against Pakistan that included two in the UAE and five in South Africa.

Du Plessis is South Africa’s most experienced player touring Pakistan, but wasn’t sure what type of wickets will be prepared for the two tests.

“I think that’s possibly the biggest thing that we are unsure about,” he said.

“As a team we try to prepare for everything and anything, overprepare, spin conditions, reverse swinging ball … if I have to call it, I probably said I think that wickets will be a bit more subcontinent like than it used to be back then (in 2007), so spinners would probably be more a little bit more in the game.”

Du Plessis has picked fit-again Pakistan all-format captain Babar Azam and fast bowler Shaheen Afridi as the two players who could pose problems for the tourists. Babar has regained fitness from a fractured thumb — in his absence Pakistan lost both the Twenty20 and test series in New Zealand.

“Obviously, having Babar back is massive for them,” du Plessis said.

“Afridi has been getting a lot of wickets, so probably someone like him would be pretty dangerous.”