ISLAMABAD: Two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), have written letters to the government containing proposals for making improvements in the budget for 2017-18.

The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah of PPP, and Asad Umer of PTI have written to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar suggesting some measures for different segments of the economy.

The joint opposition has been boycotting proceedings of the budget session in the National Assembly since May 26 and has been holding a parallel session outside parliament after the speech of Mr Shah.

The opposition has termed the budget anti-people and has been protesting against the government’s decision not to give live coverage on PTV to Mr Shah’s speech.

In the beginning of the protest, the opposition had sought live coverage of the speech of only the opposition leader, but now it is calling for live telecast by PTV of the speeches of all parliamentary heads of opposition parties.

In his letter to Mr Dar, Mr Shah gave some proposals about withdrawal and cuts in some direct and indirect taxes while Mr Asad Umer suggested measures for reducing the trade deficit.

“The government has proposed a number of tax measures in the finance bill. However, there are certain duties and taxes which are directly affecting a large segment of society and, therefore, require re-examination,” the leader of the opposition said.

He suggested abolition of the 35 per cent import duty on the import of Belarus tractors to help agriculturists. Likewise, he suggested, the duty on import of powdered milk be raised from 45 per cent to 68 per cent. However, the GST on locally manufactured powdered milk should be reduced from 17 per cent to 10 per cent, he added.

He suggested that the name of Pakistan Sweet Homes, a charity centre for orphans, should be included in clause 61 and 66 of the second schedule of Income Tax Ordinance-2001, a recommendation already made by Senate so that it could also enjoy the same benefits as enjoyed by other organisations.

The letter said the finance bill had proposed a customs duty of Rs650 on mobile phones worth $50. “This is discriminatory as it will add burden on the poor and will increase the smuggling of low-priced mobile phones.”

In his letter, PTI leader Asad Umer expressed concern over the increase in trade deficit and termed it the result of the government’s failed economic strategy. He said that over the past 11 months, the trade deficit had ballooned to $30 billion.

“In the current financial year, the trade deficit has gone up by $9 billion as compared to last year,” he said.

Mr Umer asked the finance minister to reduce this deficit and avoid delay in payment of refund to hide the actual volume of deficit.

“Dr Sahib, you must depend on the country’s industrial sector instead of international money lenders. It is an irony that the country’s economy is going downward, but international monetary institutions are happy with our economy,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2017

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