Minister sees no decline in joblessness
By Khaleeq Kiani | 6/9/2015

ISLAMABAD: The minister for planning and development has disputed an assessment by the finance ministry that the country`s unemployment rate had fallen to six per cent, arguing that the joblessness cannot be reduced without a growth rate of 7pc.

His argument indicated he saw as unrealistic the finance ministry`s projection that 2.5 million jobs would be created during the next financial year.

The finance ministry reported in the Economic Survey released last week that unemployment rate had decreased from 6.24pc in 2012-13 to 6pc in 2013-14.

Addressing a news conference on Monday, Ahsan Iqbal said reduction in poverty and unemployment was closely linked to the economic growth rate. `When you have around 2pc population growth rate and about 3pc economic growth rate, as has been the case in the recent past, you cannot reduce unemployment because your population growth eats up a major part of GDP, leaving only half or 1pc actual economic growth rate,` he said.

The minister said Pakistan needed at least 150,000 fresh jobs every year, but it was possible only after a 7pc growth rate. `If we are to reduce poverty and unemployment, we need to have an economic growth rate of at least 7pc.

Mr Iqbal, however, said the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and $46 billion investment associated with it were building momentum and changing Pakistan`s perception to be an investment destination. He said the initial Chinese investments in the CPEC would start flowing and many projects would hit the ground during the next fiscal year.

He said Pakistan could become the best destination for investment if the entire nation agreed on a positive common narrative and shun destructive politics.

In reply to a question over difference of opinion between the two ministries over growth targets for the next three years, the minister said there was no major difference but it was planning commission`s domain to push for and focus on long-term pro-development policies and in the medium term both ministries had similar views.

He was referring to the planning commission`s target of 6.5pc growth rate for 2016-17 and 7.5pc for 2017-18 and the finance ministry`s 6pc and 7pc.

In reply to another question, he said Pakistan had faced embarrassment at the international level because of failure to deliver on millennium development goals but the federal government would compensate this embarrassment by achieving new global commitments of sustainable development goals through monitoring of various social sector initiatives in close coordination with provincial governments.

Asked why financing for water sector projects was declining despite serious water shortage and the government`s claim to have prioritised the water sector, the minister said the central government had decided to stay away from provincial irrigation schemes and small dams and instead concentrate on big projects like Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu dams for which enough funding had been made available.

He said the federal government had committed and released enough funds for Lyari Expressway, Green Line Mass Transit and K-4 Water but it was provincial government`s responsibility to remove local impediments and ensure land acquisition.

Mr Iqbal said the PML-N government had stopped economic downslide and achieved a level of stability and taken the country to take off and it would now require a lot of hard work to move towards growth trajectory through concerted efforts.

He said road and energy infrastructure were key areas of next year`s development agenda to overcome electricity shortfall of over 4,500MW and to improve transmission and distribution system to deliver additional supply to consumers. The current transmission system could not absorb more than 15,500MW even if sufficient supplies were ensured, he added.

The minister said a couple of missing links in the road network like Islamabad-D.I. Khan, upgradation of Karakoram Highway and Karachi Lahore sections were being pursued by allocating substantial funds as counterpart financing to enable Chinese investment, while Hyderabad-Karachi motorway was being built by the private sector on commercial lines.

Referring to the criticism that the PML-N was too much into roads and Metro bus system, he said this appeared so because the federal government`s key responsibilities after the 18th Amendment related to energy, infrastructure and peace and security while social sectors stood transferred to the provinces. Despite this, he said, the centre was coordinating with provinces to complement their efforts by creating a special monitoring unit in the planning commission to follow up with efforts to deliver on sustainable development goals.

Published in Dawn