ISLAMABAD  -  The Senate was informed on Friday that government would soon devise its strategy about how to get Pakistan out of the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list ahead of next meeting of the international terrorism financing watchdog.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan will chair a high-level meeting on Monday to decide about concrete actions relating to currency smuggling and money service providers ahead of FATF’s next meeting”, Finance Minister Asad Umar told the Upper House. While responding to a calling attention notice, the finance minister sounded confident that Pakistan would come out of the FATF’s grey list by meeting its obligations.

He explained that Pakistan has fifteen months to overcome its deficiencies relating to currency smuggling, hawala/hundi and terror financing.

Umar said that a national executive committee has been established under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister to address these issues.

He said that addressing these deficiencies is also in the greater interest of the country even though Pakistan had serious reservations on its placement on the grey list.

“Addressing the deficiencies identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is in Pakistan’s own best interest, and that he views the issue as “more an opportunity than a challenge”, said the minister.

He said Pakistan has even been on the grey list twice. It is not like this would suddenly result in trade or banking sanctions for us, but it clearly also is a negative signal, especially for a country that has such a severe current account deficit. “So we obviously want to avoid this,” Asad Umar added.

“But I go beyond that. If you look closely, FATF or no FATF, the deficiencies need to be addressed in any case. All those things are in Pakistan’s own best interest,” he added.

He did not see any reason why the government should not be able to address the watchdog’s concerns within the 15-month deadline, which will end in September 2019.

The minister said that the next FATF quarterly review will take place in Jakarta on September 11 and 12.  The FATF has identified 27 deficiencies in three broad categories, the first of which is currency smuggling. The second is the Havala/Hundi businesses and the third is related to potential terror financing of proscribed organisations.

The minister continued that to deal with this, a National Executive Committee has been formed to be chaired by the finance minister and it has several national institutions such as the FIA, NAB, SECP, etc.

“Our own review will take place on September 8 and be completed before the next FATF review. We have already identified the action steps needed to remove the 27 deficiencies, and also assigned responsibilities”, he said.

He asserted that Pakistan will be back on the white list if it fulfils FATF requirements and remove those 27 deficiencies by then.

Umar clarified that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) delegation that visited the country earlier this month was there for a routine evaluation and that their visit was not related to Pakistan’s placement on the watchdog’s grey list.  “It was an FATF delegation but it was here for a separate exercise of mutual evaluation, which is conducted after every four or five years,” Umar said.”Even if we were not on the FATF grey list, this delegation would still have come.”

The FATF had placed Pakistan on its grey list in June this year, putting Pakistan just one step away from its dreaded blacklist, which brings with it international sanctions and economic repercussions among other things.

Answering a     question regarding the depleted state of the government’s coffers, the finance minister informed the Senate that the federal government requires $9 billion to run the country.

He said the government has decided in principle to launch Diaspora and Sukuk bonds. He said some other initiatives will also be taken to improve the flow of remittances to the country.

To another question, the Finance Minister said that the loan will be taken after taking the Parliament on board.

Umar said that the decision to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans will be taken after consultations and taking the parliament into confidence.

He pointed out that exports saw decline and imports surged over the last five years, and the government had to obtain loans to fill the gaps. He said our effort is to address the root causes of the loans.

Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bukhtiar told the House that a comprehensive security blanket has been put in place for the security of CPEC.

He said that special security division comprising nine battalions of Pakistan Army and six wings of civil armed force have been raised for the security of Chinese working on CPEC projects across the country.

The Planning Minister pointed out that there are certain elements who do not want CPEC to become a successful model. He said due to security related threats, special arrangements have been made for the CPEC.

He said that the new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan is looking at all aspects of this mega project and will take it forward.

Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razzaq Dawood told the House in clear terms that Utility Stores Corporation is not being closed down.

He said that we will rationalize its branches which have no business. He said technology will also be introduced in USC to make it more efficient.  He said the USC faced a loss of 4.7 billion rupees last year.