June 28, 2019 / 12:52 PM / 3 months ago

Pakistan's army chief points to 'fiscal mismanagement' for problems

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s powerful army chief on Friday blamed “fiscal mismanagement” for the country’ economic woes, days after he was appointed to a newly formed committee responsible for steering the economy.

FILE PHOTO: A currency trader counts Pakistani Rupee notes as he prepares an exchange of U.S dollars in Islamabad, Pakistan December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo

Though the military has extensive business interests and dominates foreign and security policies, it is unusual for an army chief to comment on how the economy is run by a civilian government.

The comments from General Qamar Javed Bajwa come days before the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is due to decide whether to approve a $6 billion bailout for cash-strapped Pakistan, which is trying to avoid a balance of payments crisis.

“We’re going through a difficult economic situation due to fiscal mismanagement,” Bajwa told a seminar at a military-run defence university in the capital, Islamabad, according to a statement issued by the military’s publicity wing.

“We understand that government has gone for difficult but quintessential decisions for long-term benefits and what we’re doing is playing our part.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is seen as close to the generals, blames economic problems on the previous administration that left office in mid-2018, after a period of tension with the military.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half the time since independence in 1947, has been taking a more active role in economic affairs since Khan came to office.

The government last week made Bajwa a member of the National Development Council, which is headed by Khan and has been given the responsibility of making major economic decisions.

Bajwa’s inclusion in the committee had “formalised the military’s role in the economic policy making,” said Yousuf Nazar, a former head of emerging market equity investments at Citigroup in London and author of a book on Pakistan’s political economy.

“We seem to be following what was practised in Turkey for decades and failed,” he said.

The leader of the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has questioned the legality of the council.

Pakistan’s economic outlook has sharply deteriorated over the past year.

Growth is expected to come in at 3.3% this fiscal year, ending at the end of this month, compared with 5.2% the previous year.

Growth is forecast to ease to 2.4% in the next financial year.

Inflation, at 9% in May, is likely to rise to 11-13% during the 2019/2020 fiscal year, according to official forecasts.

The government said in its annual budget statement this month, it expected a fiscal deficit of 7.1% this year, down from 7.2% the previous year. The rupee has lost more than 50% of its value since December 2017.

Bajwa told the seminar that the military was doing its bit to confront the economic challenges by cutting costs.

The defence budget was increased by 20% last year but the military decided to forgo a big increase in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel

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