Experts deliberate on pertinent economic, growth and sustainability issues at three-day conference

April 2-4, 2021: The 1st International Conference on Economics and Sustainable Development' by the School of Economics and Social Sciences (SESS), IBA Karachi, in collaboration with the Centre for Business and Economic Research was successfully held virtually. The conference was attended by esteemed guests and speakers from across the globe.

Over the three days of the conference, pressing issues pertaining to the Pakistan economy, its growth and economic stability were discussed by local and international experts. Furthermore, leading researchers and scholars contributed to the forum with their latest research and findings in various sessions held. The conference was chaired by Executive Director (ED) IBA, Dr. S Akbar Zaidi.

Day 1: Researchers and policy makers discuss sustainable solutions

Governor Sindh, Mr. Imran Ismail, inaugurated the conference virtually, with a video message, where he spoke extensively on the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the hardships faced by Pakistani households. "The households adopted adverse coping strategies to deal with this shock. They reduced their expenditure on health, and education and switched to lower quality or decreased quantity of food."

Speaking about the significance of organizing the conference, Dr. Zaidi said, "There is a need for us to think about why Pakistan's economy is not doing well and understand a wide range of explanation for our present imbroglio. This extensive conference will touch upon current macroeconomic concerns and help policymakers in making informed decisions on matters related to inequality, economic growth and development".

Dr. Lant Pritchett, Director at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford delivered the keynote address. He spoke about state capability and the major role that governments and policymakers play in the development process, constantly introducing reforms and policies to achieve developmental objectives. Dr. Pritchett highlighted that state capability is central to achieving higher levels of human wellbeing outcomes in some ways even more important than growth. "In a centralized system all the sub-units, whether political or administrative, are compliance driven, however, in highly regulated, weak capability states, making the law stronger reduces compliance."

Technical parallel sessions followed the address, where PhD scholars and leading researchers presented their papers on topics ranging from free-trade challenges for Pakistan to fiscal challenges in South-Asian countries.

The day concluded with a panel discussion on "Growth and Economic Stability: Challenges and Prospects" featuring renowned speakers including Dr. Miftah Ismail, former Federal Minister for Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs, Dr. Nadeem-ul-Haque, Vice Chancellor, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and former Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Mr. Sakib Sherani, CEO Macro Economic Insights & Member of the Economic Advisory Council and Mr. Asim Bashir Khan, PhD Scholar, IBA. The panel was moderated by Dr. Asma Hyder, Dean – SESS, IBA and Dr. Adnan Haider, Chairperson, Department of Economics, IBA.

Dr. Ismail stated that historically, Pakistan has a fiscal deficit of 6% of the GDP across various governments for the last 30 years. The average saving rate is 12% of GDP as compared to the 30% GDP saving rate in Bangladesh and India. Similarly, the investment GDP rate is 12%. "The economic growth and stability are not a priority for the Pakistani nation; hence the investment sector is overlooked, and financial environment is not conducive for savings."

Mr. Sherani opined that all the Asian developing countries that have progressed economically in the last 40 years is due to a focus on exports. "Currently our exports are 7% as compared to India's 20% and Bangladesh's 18%. To achieve economic stability Pakistan needs to focus on increasing its exports".

Dr. Haque said that Pakistan has an inconsistent economic growth pattern and presently the economic growth has come to a grinding halt. He argued that a country without a cogent thought process, lack of research and an aversion to change has an uncertain future and extensive work in the right direction needs to be done to uplift Pakistan's economy.

Day 2: ADB and UNDP experts link viable development solutions for eradication of inequality and inclusive growth

The second day commenced with an opening address by the Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Mr. Yasuyuki Sawada. Speaking about the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus and how it has destabilized the economic outlook and widened existing social inequalities, impacting lives of millions in Asia-Pacific region and beyond, Sawada said, "Regional GDP contracted by 0.2% in 2020 with East Asia faring much better. After a sharp contraction last year, growth in South Asia will rebound in 2021. However, the recovery will be uneven".

A panel discussion on 'Sustainable Development: Inequality and Inclusive Growth' took place amongst Mr. Knut Ostby, Resident Representative, Dr. Zaidi, Dr. Sania Nishtar and Dr. Waqar Masood.

Mr. Ostby said, "As one of the first countries to pledge its commitment to the 2030 Agenda on the SDGs, Pakistan understands the simple truth that equality is the cornerstone of sustainable development". He added that the Asia-Pacific region has witnessed the steepest rise globally in human development, but at the same time the region continues to grapple with wide-spread, multi-dimensional poverty.

Dr. Zaidi added that poverty is much easier to address as compared to inequality. "All sets of data prior to Covid-19 shows that poverty rate fell remarkably in South Asia, however, what it does not show is that the inequality rate also increased a great deal. So whenever there has been economic growth, rather than development, there has been a rise in inequality."

Dr. Masood said, "Inclusive growth is mainly about reducing poverty. However, growth should also be focused on women, youth and rural population so that they can join the race and benefit from the growth."

The day also featured two technical parallel sessions with PhD scholars and leading researchers. The day concluded with a panel discussion on 'Urban Resilience and Impact on Utility Services' featuring Dr. Javed Younas, Professor of Economics at American University of Sharjah, Professor of Economics at American University of Sharjah and Ms. Sadia Dada, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, K-Electric. The panel was moderated by Dr. Khadija Bari, Assistant Professor, IBA.

Dr. Younas opined that our government services departments are ill-equipped to provide sufficient services to the people of Karachi. He held the authorities responsible for lack of provision of services resulting in the city's disfunction in the event of natural disasters.

Ms. Dada informed the audience that 75% of Karachi today does not experience load shedding. She said that the illegal encroachment in the city is leading to safety impairment. She emphasized that the eco-system is not conducive for companies to work optimally and that utilities corridors are the need of the hour.

Dr. Ahmed recommended that the physical existence of service delivery corridors should be notified to the public and a comprehensive plan needs to be formulated to create awareness about the rights of the consumers and utility service providers.

Day 3: Conference concludes with a speaker session and Doctoral Symposium Presentations

The final day of the virtual conference commenced with an online session on 'Contribution of Youth in Social Development', featuring Mr. Sikander Bizenjo, Co-Founder, Balochistan Youth Action Committee. Mr. Bizenjo spoke at length about the role that the youth of Pakistan has played in uplifting the society and social development.

Addressing the audience, Mr. Bizenjo shared his journey of how his team helped people in far-flung areas of Balochistan when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. "We have a lot of inequalities in Pakistan; not every individual has the same exposure, the same level of interest and education. One thing that distinguishes our country is that 60% of the population is under the age of 30 and that is a huge potential for our country," he added.

The session was followed by Doctoral Symposium Presentations, where the participants showcased their research and discussed the goals, methods, and results of their research. A prize distribution ceremony was held at the closing ceremony, where Symposium Awards were given to successful participants.

The three-day virtual Conference was keenly followed by leading economists, experts, researchers, and professionals. The conference came to a successful conclusion on Sunday, April 4, 2021.