ISLAMABAD: Two federal ministers from the Pakistan Muslim Lea­g­ue-Nawaz (PML-N) on Friday showe­red praises on Finance Minister Mif­tah Ismail in the National Assembly for presenting the “best budget” at a time when the country was facing the “worst economic crisis” in history.

Another federal minister, Syed Khursheed Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), however, was not so forthcoming in his praise. Instead, he criticised Mr Ismail for not heeding to his suggestion regarding imposition of heavy taxes on cigarettes.

Mr Shah also lamented the absence of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet members from the house on the concluding day of the budget debate.

“The ministers should have been sitting [in the house] today. And I regret to say that even the prime minister should also be present here,” said Mr Shah.

Khursheed Shah insists on imposing more tax on cigarettes; Khawaja Asif says representatives of tobacco lobby hold sway, parliament ‘cannot tax them’

The PPP veteran, who holds the portfolio of water resources, once again protested over the lacklustre proceedings due to the large absenteeism despite the fact that Minister for Economic Affairs Ayaz Sadiq, at the outset of the sitting, had himself pointed out that a number of MNAs had gone to Nawabshah to condole with former president Asif Zardari over the death of his stepmother.

Mr Shah said smoking was prohibited in almost all the developed countries due to environmental and health issues. When he had raised the issue in the cabinet, the prime minister had agreed with him. “Then why are we not imposing tax on cigarettes?” he questioned.

He said it was the responsibility of the government and parliament to save the people from various diseases caused by smoking. It was the government that had to spend billions of rupees on treating the affected people. He said he had suggested a 100 per cent increase in tax on cigarettes, and also challenged that the industry paid Rs150 billion in tax.

Mr Shah, however, admitted that the budget was favourable for the agriculture sector.

Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf endorsed Mr Shah’s point and asked the finance minister to consider the proposals. Finance Minister Ismail, who had already delivered his winding up speech on the budget, took the floor again, and without making any commitment said the cigarette industry was paying Rs150bn in tax and that he would collect more than Rs200bn from it in the next fiscal year.

Ayaz Sadiq lashed out at the previous Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for bringing the country to the verge of a default. He said all the international financial institutions had expressed their “mistrust” due to backtracking of the PTI government on the commitments made with them.

The minister lauded Mr Ismail for “tolerating criticism” not only from the opposition, but sometimes from the allies for making tough decisions. He remarked that people got scared every time they saw Mr Ismail on TV, thinking he would announce another price hike.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said Miftah Ismail had made the budget under an “uncertain situation” with bravery. The government was expected to gradually tackle the landmines laid by the previous PTI government, he stated.

Mr Asif also endorsed the PPP leader’s proposal of imposing more taxes on cigarettes, and told the house that the British Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris held a 60pc market share and paid Rs152bn in taxes. The remaining companies paid less than 2pc, which was “shameful”.

“We all know why this anomaly exists… representatives of that lobby, the vested interests have reached these houses [parliament],” he said, adding that “we cannot tax them”.

“There are others who evade taxes as they have relations with those in power,” he said, citing the example of importers of cars, cigarettes and electronics.

Meanwhile, Mr Sadiq also disclosed that the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) leadership had prepared a reference seeking disqualification of MNA Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami for sitting on the opposition benches despite the fact that the other MMA components were in the ruling coalition. He asked Mr Chitrali to join the treasury benches.

Mr Chitrali had contested the 2018 elections on the ticket of the MMA. He wanted to respond, but the speaker adjourned the sitting till Monday evening.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022

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