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Cabinet splits on amnesty or crackdown

Top Story

April 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet failed to develop a consensus on the Tax Amnesty Scheme in its second meeting on Wednesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair.

In a tweet, Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the matter was pending for the next cabinet meeting, as some provisions [of the scheme] needed fine-tuning.

The federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday witnessed a heated discussion among the members for and against the system. Many ministers had termed the amnesty scheme politically devastating for the government.

A minister said the scheme was against the political philosophy of PTI and it will be hard for them to sell it politically. Another minister said the scheme would be a two-edged sword, as it would not only be politically devastating, but also fail to get the desired results, as tax-evaders would not prefer to avail themselves of such a scheme.

In the cabinet’s meeting on Wednesday, some ministers suggested a crackdown on tax thieves rather than giving them amnesty. The prime minister said amnesty was the need of the hour but the government would not make any hasty decision in this regard.

He apprehended that some federal cabinet members might be opposed to the change. It was principally decided to continue deliberations until a consensus was reached. Meanwhile, launching the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme (NPHS) here on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the nation to have heart and assured them that the testing times currently facing them would be over soon and Pakistan would emerge stronger.

Under the scheme, 141,000 residential units would be constructed in the first phase including 25,000 in Islamabad, 1,10,000 in Balochistan and 6,000 in Azad Kashmir. Addressing the gathering, Imran said the beneficiaries of the system, including a few members of the Federal Board of Revenue, were resisting the promised change.

"Even in the FBR there are people who are resisting change for their personal interest," he said. The premier said his government had the vision to make Pakistan a modern Islamic welfare country.

“Our government has been called a failure from day one, but they can’t win their battle against us,” Imran said in a determined tone. He said those raising hue and cry were the ones who had made billions using the existing system and increased the country’s debt to $30 billion from $6 billion in the last 10 years.

He said no one could outsmart the PTI government in its struggle for the promised change. He vowed to help the country's long-neglected stratum move from katchi abadis (shanty towns) to the swiftly constructed flats and high-rises.

Khan revealed that a Chinese company had offered to set up a pre-fabricated one story in a week. He said the government would give them land and they would swiftly construct flats having all facilities.

He said around 40 percent population of Karachi was living in slums and no one had ever paid any attention to their condition. He said the commercial buildings would also be constructed in the city’s slums so that economic activity could be generated.

“We are trying to involve the private sector in the housing sector and facilitate our youths to come forward in the construction arena.”

Khan told the participants that housing did not figure high on his priority list originally but then an incident changed his way of thinking about the industry.

“My first priority was health, education and employment. But then I found out about a soon-to-be retiring government employee who was told that the only two ways his family could retain their government residence was if his son got inducted in the same department or if he died while still a government employee. That man jumped off a building the next day," the prime minister said.

"It was only then that I realised how difficult it is for the salaried class to gather funds needed for building houses. Pakistan needs 10 million homes but the salaried class does not have the money,” he regretted.

“Investors are lined up to come in, while we're also trying to bring in the private sector and help our young entrepreneurs and youth to enter the housing industry,” he said. Imran said a revolving fund of Rs5 billion had been established to grant microcredit to poor people enabling them to have their own houses.

He said the government’s foremost vision was to make Pakistan a modern and welfare state. He said the government wanted to build five million homes for the lower income class of the country. “The biggest impediment to a prospering Naya Pakistan is the status quo benefiting from the current system. The government aims to turn Pakistan into a welfare state,” he said.

In his speech, Finance Minister Asad Umar said if the federal government even came close to building 5m houses, it would be the biggest economic project in the country’s history. The minister said the housing sector would also contribute heavily towards another one of the federal government's promises: generating 10m jobs for the youth.

He reiterated that the government stayed committed to facilitating both the lenders and borrowers in order to kick-start the housing industry — a fact that, he said, was signified by the tax incentives given to banks that advance loans for low-cost housing.