The International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejected the Pakistani government’s proposal to increase the number of beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and expand its scope to cover 20-30 per cent of the population living in poverty.
The proposal aimed to provide quarterly stipends to those below the poverty line. While the IMF approved an increase in the BISP allocation by Rs40 billion, increasing it from Rs360 billion to Rs400 billion for the current fiscal year for 8.9 million beneficiaries, the proposal to expand coverage could not be implemented due to a shortage of budgetary resources.
According to sources, the IMF refused to increase the Proxy Mean Test (PMT) ceiling for enhancing coverage and providing monthly stipends to around 30 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, citing a lack of budgetary resources. The Finance Ministry official stated that there was no disagreement, and the government has been providing a quarterly stipend of Rs7,000 to 8.9 million beneficiaries.
The IMF staff suggested increasing tax revenues and abolishing un-targeted subsidies but did not initially oppose the idea of expanding coverage. The IMF high-ups recommended using the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) of the BISP to provide targeted subsidies on electricity, gas, and provision of POL for motorcycles and small vehicles.
According to Geo, different proposals to start a targeted subsidy mechanism were discussed but ultimately dropped due to various reasons. The weekly Sensitive Price Index (SPI) touched 45.64 per cent on a weekly basis, and Consumer Price Index (CPI) crossed 31.5 per cent on a monthly basis in February 2023. Both the CPI and SPI are expected to rise further in the weeks and months ahead of the current fiscal year.
To protect vulnerable segments from falling below the poverty line, there is no other option but to implement a targeted subsidy mechanism over the short and medium-term period. Pakistan and the IMF will need to place a target subsidy mechanism, given the possibility of a new IMF program after the expiration of the current one under the Extended Fund Facility in June 2023.
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