Asad Umar asks government to reconsider tax on sugar, cooking oil

Updated June 20, 2019

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Asad Umar speaks in the National Assembly on Thursday. ─ DawnNewsTV
Asad Umar speaks in the National Assembly on Thursday. ─ DawnNewsTV

PTI leader Asad Umar, during his speech in the National Assembly on Thursday, asked his party's government to reconsider the increased tax on sugar and cooking oil in the federal budget.

Acknowledging that the federal budget ─ set to unroll with the arrival of the new fiscal year on July 1 ─ was a "budget for tough times", Umar congratulated the team that had prepared it.

"The economy is currently facing multiple problems," said Umar, who is the chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Finance, as he began his speech on the budget.

He said that at the time the PTI government was formed, one "deferred ailment" that the government was dealing with was foreign debt.

Umar said that the current account deficit of $2.035 billion a month was reduced by 70 per cent in the last three months before his resignation.

The former finance minister noted that the turnover tax has been increased in the budget presented on June 11. "At least the new investments should be excluded from this minimum tax in the first five years," he recommended, adding that balancing, modernisation, rehabilitation and expansion (BMRE) tax credit should be restored.

Umar then said that it was not suitable to increase taxes on sugar for which prices were already rising.

"It [raise in tax] should be taken back and [they] should also investigate why sugar prices are rising so quickly."

He had the same opinion on increasing the taxes on edible oil and ghee and asked Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh to reconsider when winding up the budget.

"The total receivables after an increase in the taxes on sugar, oil and ghee are minimal."

"Similarly, the federal excise duty (FED) on small cars, we had already increased the duty on expensive cars and now the duty has been increased on import of small cars like Alto. As I have said, the middle-income class is also going through a difficult phase. I think this measure should also be reviewed."

Umar recommended that Employees' Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) pensions should also be enhanced from ten to fifteen per cent.

The former finance minister said that there were five main factors — electricity prices, gas prices, tax rates, policy rates of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and rupee valuation — which were discussed during negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an agreement.

He said that with regards to the exchange rate, he was "very happy" that the SBP governor said that there shouldn't be "free float in a country like Pakistan".

Editorial: State Bank governor’s remarks

On the basis of the increase in electricity prices in the previous year, IMF wanted an additional electricity price increase, taking it to an overall 50 per cent increase, Umar told the house. However, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) valuation was an 11pc increase, which following adjustments may go up to approximately 15pc.

According to the former finance minister, the IMF wanted the debt accumulated before and during the PML-N's government to be recovered.

'Stop accountability'

Following the issuance of his production order, former president Asif Ali Zardari attended the ongoing session of the National Assembly on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Following the issuance of his production order, former president Asif Ali Zardari attended the ongoing session of the National Assembly on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, addressing the National Assembly for the first time since his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau on June 10, said that the government and the opposition should sit together and discuss an economic policy "to move forward".

"Let's give the economic policy ownership, so that it remains forever," the former president said at the start of today's session.

Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari and Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari watch as their father speaks in the house on Thursday. ─ DawnNewsTV
Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari and Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari watch as their father speaks in the house on Thursday. ─ DawnNewsTV

During Zardari's appearance, his two daughters — Aseefa and Bakhtawar — were seated in the NA gallery while his son, PPP Chairperson and MNA Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, was also in attendance. The National Assembly Secretariat had issued the PPP co-chairperson's production order a day earlier.

Taking aim at the government's recently introduced budget, Zardari said that industries were placing ads in newspapers saying, "Save us".

"If the budget is so good and so expected and if we are getting money from the IMF, why are people crying, why are industries crying?" he asked.

Zardari said that while the budget raises government salaries, it also increases taxes.

He said that there was so much fear amongst businessmen and investors that they weren't ready to invest in anything.

"If you have more than Rs500,000 in your cheque book, then you get a Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) notice to come and give an explanation for it."

"In the whole country, who all will give an account," he inquired, adding: "This accountability should be stopped and we should speak about moving forward."

He said that when the PPP came to power, he didn't go after other politicians.

"Arresting me doesn't make any difference to the party; PPP is further strengthened," he said. "But the average person is worried that if Zardari sahab can be caught, what will happen to us."

He expressed concern that the entire country might agitate because of these measures and then no political party will be able to do anything.

Zardari thanked Baloch leaders and the MQM leaders who supported them in these "tough times".

'Crime cannot go unpunished'

Asad Umar, who took the floor after Zardari, said that the former president wanted to end the system of accountability and pakkar dhakkar.

"If this pakkar dhakkar is being done for political revenge, then it is neither good for the country nor for the person seeking revenge," he said.

"But the system of reward and punishment is the system of God."

"Our parliament has a constitutional responsibility that if a crime has been committed, if someone has stolen the country's money, then there be a system of reward and punishment for it."

Prime Minister Imran Khan also arrived at the assembly during the afternoon and left after half an hour.