Federal Finance Minister Asad Umar on Friday gravely cautioned against the potential difficulties the country will be faced with if the oil prices in the global markets do not stabilise soon, saying in such an event "it will be bad news for Pakistan".
These remarks came during an interview aired on Channel 92 in which he discussed fiscal measures taken by the newly elected government since it came into power and future plans for the Pakistani economy.
As the interview began, the show host, Mohammad Malick, decided to hit the deck running and asked the finance minister regarding the Saudi investment for CPEC secured by a delegation which visited the kingdom recently.
"The visit to Saudi Arabia was symbolic. The three grants were already in the pipeline. The visit showed the world that there is progress being made in the relationship between the two countries," said Umar.
Answering a question about the perceived crunch that 1.3 million people, who are already giving taxes in the country, have been put into with increased taxes imposed on them, Umar said: "I have another bad news for you, there are only 1.3 million filers, out of which only around 0.7 million actually pay taxes."
"We have not levied additional taxes on these taxpayers. Whenever people meet me they say 'yar bara zulm kiya hai' (You have been very cruel)."
He said that beginning yesterday the government has started to catch those people who do not pay any taxes but buy vehicles worth millions.
"The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) will see to this, and bring those people into the tax net," Umar vowed.
"Initially, FBR is going to catch the top 100 people who have bought the most amount of land and cars, but are not filers and do not give taxes. This will be done over the span of a few weeks after which in a comprehensive exercise people who have lavish lifestyles, as in travelling in the business class etc will be identified.
"I thought you would ask why only 100 people, let me answer that anyway, it is 100 people so that FBR cannot sidestep this and say that as there are too many people the exercise will take too long. With only 100 people, the exercise will not take more than a few weeks," he explained.
When questioned whether the government plans on approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he responded by saying: "I would like anyone to find any answer besides the one I am about to give — we will look at all options including going to the IMF given the situation, after which I will give my recommendation to the prime minister, who in turn can decide to act upon it or look to other avenues."
In response to the host's comment regarding the general perception that the government has no idea what to do with the (finance) ministry, he said: "For four years they did not make any decisions about gas. They wreaked havoc with the department."
"They [the past government] did not take any action on the electricity department for years. In the past 30 days, our government has taken clear decisions on all the matters we have touched upon," he said defending the government's performance.
As the conversation turned to scandals such as the liquefied natural gas (LNG) contract corruption case, Umar said that the government has had a meeting on LNG terminals with the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and reports have been sought on the matter. He assured that the issue is up for review and decisions will be taken soon to address it.
Moving on to the taxes levied on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Umar pointed out that there was previously a 30 per cent tax imposed on LPG which has now been reduced to 10 per cent, "in view of the fact that it is a commodity widely used by the common man".
The minister said that National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) had attempted to increase the price of electricity but "we stopped them, asked them to submit to us their plan and their past performance first before we can allow them to increase prices".
Responding to a query regarding the government's plan on facilitating online purchases through the use of a global payment system, the finance minister said: "A platform like PayPal or its equivalent is required in the country for the immensely talented youth to be able to do online business. Just yesterday I had a meeting with a company that is an equivalent to PayPal, and we will have either Paypal or a similar system in the country soon."
Expressing regret on the Supreme Court's verdict regarding PTI leader Jahangir Tareen's disqualification, the finance minister said: "I am very sad about this verdict of disqualification on a personal level. However, it is a court order and we respect that. I have not worked with a minister better than Tareen sahab. The court order bars him from holding an office with the Tehreek-i-Insaf...the nation has lost a man who could have done so much for the country.
"Knowing Tareen, however, we know he would find a way to work for the country," he concluded with optimism.