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Commission set to crack down on benamis

Top Story

July 1, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Extending the asset declaration scheme to three more days till July 3, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on Sunday said the government had established the Benami Commission to crack down on benami properties and asset holders from July 1.

“We have decided to extend the [asset declaration] scheme for three days up to July 3 until banking hours, giving last chance to those wanting to get into the tax system. So far, 85,000 declarants have shown their interest in availing themselves of the amnesty scheme,” Shaikh said while addressing a press conference at the PID here.

Adviser to the PM (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar and Chairman FBR Shabbar Zaidi was also present. Shaikh said Pakistan wanted to convey to the international community that it was ready to take tough decisions and introduce reforms.

He highlighted five major elements and said the external crisis posed threat where the total public debt peaked to Rs31,000 billion, while foreign loan crossed $100 billion mark. The trade gap had widened as imports stood at $60 billion, while exports fetched $30 billion (projected exports figure is estimated to be around $24 billion for the outgoing fiscal) so the current account deficit was projected to be brought down from $20 billion to $13.5 billion for the outgoing fiscal year.

“The government mobilized $9.2 billion from friendly countries, $3.2 billion oil facility on deferred payment from Saudi Arabia and $1.5 billion oil facility on deferred payment from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). Qatar also committed $3 billion out of which $500 million has already been disbursed,” he said.

Shaikh said the government took measures to control the expenditure, as debt servicing would peak to Rs2.9 trillion in the next fiscal year. Defence budget, he said, had been frozen and the civilian side expenditure was also curtailed saving Rs50 billion.

When asked about the yawning budget deficit that was projected to go close to 8 percent of GDP in the wake of massive revenue shortfall and increasing expenditures, the minister did not reply.

However, no one replied when journalists raised questions about provisional revenue collection for the outgoing fiscal year and tax collection out of amnesty scheme.

To another query about different projections of Finance Ministry and Planning Commission on the GDP growth and inflation for next fiscal year 2019-20, Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar said these were mere projections, as the multilateral lenders had presented different projections; however, the government would make efforts to curtail inflationary pressures.

To another query about his personal tax payment, Hammad Azhar said he had paid Rs12 million tax and also filed a complaint with the Pemra over a wrong story about his returns at the time of contesting last elections.

To another query about reducing tax on tobacco growers from Rs300 per kg to Rs10 per kg, Hammad Azhar said the government had reduced the tax, as it had started hurting the growers. He made it clear that the tax was not reduced at the behest of any lobby.

Shabbar said operationalization of the Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) condition had been approved with effect from August 1, 2019.

“We have made three basic changes to the law related to the CNIC condition, as first of all it will become effective from 1-8-2019. Second, the consumer purchasing from retailers will not be required to produce CNIC on making purchases of less than Rs50,000, and third, in case of mis-declaration of particulars of CNIC by the buyer the seller shall not be accountable for any penalty or other action under the act” Shabbar told The News after the press briefing.

He said the FBR would make further explanations through rules to facilitate taxpayers and address their genuine concerns related to the CNIC. The FBR has issued a notification for Adjudicating Authority-Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act 2017 under chairperson Jamil Ahmed (retired PAS/BS-22) and comprising Mohammad Tanvir Akhtar (retired IRS-BS 21) and Khaqan Murtaza (PAS-BS-21).

He said they had established three zones for dealing Benami cases and posted 11 officers at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad zones. The FBR has posted reputed and honest commissioners, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners at the three zones.

It is yet to see how much time the government takes to grant administrative and financial autonomy to this authority that has come into being under standalone Benami law approved by Parliament in 2017. However, the FBR has placed rules and now the Benami authority would become operational.

However, during the press briefing Shabbar said around 85,000 declarations had been submitted so far and they were expecting that the figure would touch 100,000 due to the three-day extension.

Technically, the government has extended the amnesty scheme to three more days to facilitate those standing in the queue for filing declarations, he said. Shabbar said the FBR would be trimmed and a comprehensive plan would be shared next week.