NA panel wants Shaikh’s briefing before clearing key finance bills

Updated February 28, 2020

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Five bills, including crucial laws for fulfilling the requirement of IMF and FATF, contingent to Shaikh's presence. — AFP/File
Five bills, including crucial laws for fulfilling the requirement of IMF and FATF, contingent to Shaikh's presence. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel led by treasury member Faiz Ullah on Thursday deferred discussions on five key government bills and linked its approval to personal appearance of Finance Adviser Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance, presided over by PTI MNA from Faisalabad Faiz Ulla, also called upon State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Reza Baqir to personally attend the next meeting for briefing on high inflation and policy rates and pros and cons of about $3.2 billion inflow of ‘hot money’ in treasury bills.

“The committee unanimously decided that all government bills would be considered in the meeting, when finance adviser will brief it,” the NA secretariat later announced in a public statement.

Since taking over the portfolio in April 2019, Shaikh has never attended any meeting of the standing committees of both the national assembly and the senate.

A total of six bills moved by the government were on the agenda of the meeting, including a couple of crucial laws for fulfilling the requirement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The panel rejected one bill and deferred five others due to continuous absence of Shaikh.

The committee discussed “The Pakistan Coinage (Amendment) Bill, 2019” and unanimously recommended that the said bill should not be passed by the national assembly because it was against the basic spirit of the human rights and involved external repercussions on exports to the European Union.

The five others that were deferred by the committee included the Tax Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2019, the SBP Banking Services Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Government Savings Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Post Office Cash Certificate (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Post Office National Savings Certificates (Amendment) Bill 2020.

The meeting discussed the Calling Attention regarding deduction of 5pc maintenance allowance from the salaries of federal government employees working in BPS-6 to BPS-15, moved by PTI MNA Ali Nawaz Awan, and directed the housing and finance ministries to convene an exclusive meeting with him for concrete solution of the issue.

While discussing the matter regarding embezzlement scam of custom officials at Torkham border, Federal Board of Revenue’s Acting Chairperson Ms Nosheen Javed reported that a total of 355 containers were cleared without payment of customs duty.

She said director general of Intelligence & Investigation (Customs), Islamabad sent four special reports and highlighted several issues with respect to clearance of containers at Torkham. On the other hand, directorate North had a different opinion.

Ms Nosheen said the FBR, therefore, had constituted a “Joint Investigation Team” comprising of Collector Model Custom Collectorate MCC, Appraisement & Investigation-Customs and Regional Office Peshawar to conduct investigation into the matter and submit a report. Further action will be taken on its receipt, she said.

The committee decided that director general Customs Intelligence and members of the JIT be called after one month along with a detailed report for further discussion on the subject.

It also discussed the matter pertaining to disbursement of loans to small and medium enterprises sector in Pakistan by commercial banks and policies of the SBP in this regard, which was SBP Senior Director Irfan Ali briefed the panel on.

He said the central bank had taken a series of measures and offered incentives to facilitate SME sector which included improving regulatory framework, upscaling of microfinance banks, risk mitigation strategy, simplified procedures for financing among others.

The committee noted that government should review its policy of SMEs at the earliest since the sector was considered backbone of the economy and overall credit offtake to it was unsatisfactory.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2020