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Ministers gagged on Tareen issue: Declare assets to earn tax amnesty

Top Story

April 3, 2019

Highlights

  • The carrot and stick policy will be adopted but exact details of the amnesty scheme will be worked out, says Asad Umar
  • Withholding tax on banking transactions for non-filers would be abolished in the coming budget: minister
  • The FBR is examining all tax exemptions for the upcoming budget, says Hammad Azhar

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Asad Umar said on Tuesday his government would roll out a new tax amnesty scheme ahead of the budget for individuals to declare their local and foreign assets under the scheme. It is also under consideration to allow public office-holders, including politicians and bureaucrats, to avail the amnesty scheme, Asad Umar said while talking to media persons at a press conference here.

To a query about becoming one or two-tranche country after accepting tough conditions of the IMF programme, Asad Umar said easy decisions could not fix the economy when there are massive deficits.

“The carrot and stick policy will be adopted but exact details of the amnesty scheme will be worked out. There are all kinds of strict laws and there is demand for providing last opportunity, so the amnesty scheme is under consideration,” the minister said.

Flanked by Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar and Adviser to Ministry of Finance Dr Khaqan Najeeb, Asad Umar said that there were many amnesty schemes which were brought in the country despite opposition extended by the IMF and World Bank. He said the compliance requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) related to ‘Know Your Customers’ (KYC) would be taken care of when the government would announce the tax amnesty scheme. The minister also announced that withholding tax on banking transactions for non-filers would be abolished in the coming budget. The government, he said, would also withdraw ban on purchase of property for non- filers.

The minister also announced that the federal government, Punjab and KP would jack up valuation rates for real estate plots and then reduce the rate of tax. He said he would extend support to restoration of wealth tax and if there was a constitutional bar, then the provinces could move ahead.

In order to remove confusion on sending money abroad under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) limit, the minister said that the government would propose an amendment as many people sent out money beyond the limit of $5 million for investment purposes and buying flats by using the excuse in the name of FERA.

Regarding details of GST rate and Petroleum Development Levy (PDL) on POL products, the minister said the base price of petrol stood at Rs75.75 per liter and the imposed GST and PDL collection fetched Rs23.30 per litre so the per litre price for consumers went up to Rs98.85 per litre.

The minister said the government would share medium-term economic framework with the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance as well as with the media but the figures of macroeconomic framework would not be part of it because it would be finalised in upcoming parleys with the IMF.

When asked about possibility of increasing electricity prices ahead of upcoming budget, he said National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) determined the tariff and he would support to the IMF condition that the Nepra’s determined tariff should be implemented automatically without notification by the government. He also said that he would extend support to the idea that the standard GST and PDL rates should be approved by the parliament and then Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) should determine the tariff in accordance with placed formula.

With the existing formula, he said the parliament was bypassed where the executive possessed power to lower or increase the POL prices by adjusting GST and PDL rates.

To another query regarding participation of Jehangir Khan Tareen in the cabinet meeting, the minister parried the question and said that the Supreme Court barred him to hold the public office but he was not penalised. He said Tareen is well-known progressive agriculturist.

Regarding the rising inflation, he said it touched 9.4 percent, but the core inflation had dropped. He said that National Price Management Committee would be holding a meeting to curb prices of food items. He said the interest payments would consume around Rs2,000 billion during the current fiscal year and it was not yet known that how much defence budget would escalate by end of the current fiscal year.

Making comparison on foreign debt sustainability, the minister said the foreign debt went up by $6.7 billion in the first nine months (July-March) period of the last financial year 2017-18 against $4.2 billion in the same period of the current fiscal year, showing that it decreased by 35 percent in the current financial year. The minister said the regional trade with India could be possible if New Delhi agreed for comprehensive dialogue and resolution of conflict in Kashmir. He said that trade with Iran and Afghanistan should also be promoted.

Hammad Azhar said the FBR was examining all tax exemptions for the upcoming budget and except charities and medical grounds others should be considered to do away with. However, Asad Umar added that if the IPPs exemption would be withdrawn, then the prices of electricity would be increased. Hammad Azhar further said that alternate dispute resolution rules were finalised and would be issued soon.

Meanwhile, the government decided to clamp ban on telecast of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches in Pakistan in the backdrop of misinformation disseminated by India against Pakistan in recent weeks. The decision was taken in the federal cabinet meeting here at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in chair.

The federal cabinet formally approved creation of a new division in the name of Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Division. It has also been clarified that the government is not going to change the name of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). Dismissing rumours of BISP being done away with, the government has introduced a poverty alleviation programme under which various social welfare schemes such as the Sehat Insaf Card, business loans and low-cost housing programme will be run. The BISP will continue in its place, but these programmes will be launched in addition to it under the umbrella of the 'Ehsas' programme. The decisions of the federal cabinet huddle were announced in a media conference by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry upon conclusion of the sitting.

Referring to the ban on airing IPL, the minister said the government believes that political conflicts should not be allowed to impact sports and culture.

"However, we saw the attitude that India maintained against Pakistani citizens, actors, artists and cricketers," the minister said, adding that wearing of military caps by Indian cricket players during a match against Australia was "the limit" for Pakistan. Additionally, Fawad Chaudhry recalled that the official Indian broadcaster was made to pull-out of the fourth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in the middle of the tournament following the Pulwama attack in order to harm the league. He said the Ministry of Information had proposed a cabinet ban on IPL because after "India made an organised effort to harm cricket in Pakistan, it doesn't make sense for us to allow an Indian domestic tournament to be promoted here".

Fawad said that after the cabinet's endorsement of the ban, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) will ensure that IPL matches are not shown on any TV channels. He said the cabinet nodded to ban broadcasting of India's IPL matches in Pakistan. He said India has left no opportunity to harm Pakistan's cricket. He said sports, culture, and other showbiz activities should not be politicised, but India adopted an aggressive posture against Pakistani players and artists.

Fawad said the new division, Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, will be headed by Dr Sania Nishtar and it will coordinate functions of different organisations under the newly-launched Ehsas programme. He said the new poverty alleviation programme envisages provision of health cards and affordable housing facilities for the low income people. He said financial aid is provided to poor people through BISP, Zakat, and Pakistan Baitul Maal, whereas under the new social welfare programme, new initiatives will be taken.

The prime minster directed to prepare a complete roadmap and procurement policy on wheat, cotton and rice to benefit the agriculture sector. The minister said the cabinet also approved a budget of Rs57.3 billion for Khassadar and other forces working in erstwhile Fata. He said the cabinet gave approval to the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Council. Fawad said the prime minister directed to prepare a complete roadmap on wheat, cotton, and rice and prepare a procurement policy to benefit the agriculture sector. He said the cabinet also decided export of one million tons of wheat. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan advised to evolve a comprehensive policy to set prices of vehicles. He said it is the PTI government's efforts due to which sugarcane growers got prices of their crop in time for the first time.

Fawad said the cabinet approved appointment of Arshad Malik as the Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan International Airlines. New boards have been constituted for the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, to be chaired by Shamsuddin Ahmed Sheikh; Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, to be chaired by Qamar Javed Sharif; Sui Southern Gas Company Limited, to be chaired by Dr Shamshad Akhtar and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, to be chaired by Syed Dilawar Abbas. Fawad Chaudhry said the cabinet approved extension in the licence of Vision Air International for one year.

To a query, the minister said Asad Umar will announce a new economic roadmap for development of industries and other sectors. Similarly, he said Energy Minister Umar Ayub Khan will present a new roadmap for energy. He said that efforts would be made to ensure that no loadshedding takes place in Ramazan and the next summer. The information minister said directions have also been given to ensure availability of gas in the next winter season. To a question about the 18th Amendment, he said some clauses of the amendment regarding higher education and health can be amended, if there is a political consensus on it. To a question, he said establishment of military courts is the need of the hour and these courts have performed well. He said if the opposition agrees, the tenure of military courts can be extended.

Answering another question about India's belligerent posture, Fawad said Modi should better rethink his policy, because he has badly failed and even the Indian people do not believe in his rhetoric. Among other decisions taken by the cabinet, a budget of Rs57.3 billion was approved to be transferred to the former Fata region for Khassadar and other security forces, the information minister said, adding that "it is very important the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is completed.”

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