ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee has recommended charging Rs500 “radio fee” from all vehicles, excluding motorcycles, at the time of registration to generate additional Rs15 billion per year revenue for the financially-hit state-run Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), commonly known as Radio Pakistan.
The recommendation came from a sub-committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting which met under its convener Irfan Siddiqui of the ruling PML-N here on Monday to discuss issues related to the PBC’s serving and retired employees who had been facing great hardships due to financial crunch for more than a decade.
Talking to Dawn after the meeting, Mr Siddiqui said that the members were informed that the proposal of collecting radio fee was expected to generate an additional Rs15bn per annum, as every year millions of vehicles were registered in the country.
Mr Siddiqui said the committee had also directed the government to cease all sorts of activities regarding “visitation of unwarranted personnel” in the premises of Radio Pakistan and the process of privatisation, renting out or leasing out of the PBC buildings with immediate effect.
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Expressing concern over the frequent visits of various persons from different institutions in connection with some commercial activities within the PBC premises, Mr Siddiqui expressed the fear that such activities might pose a security threat to the institution amid rising acts of terrorism in the country.
The committee members emphasised the importance of addressing issues faced by employees and pensioners in payment of their dues and medical bills and extended its full support to resolve their issues.
According to an official handout, the PBC director general informed the committee that the total expenses of the department were Rs6.5bn per annum, whereas they were able to generate only Rs4.5bn.
Mr Siddiqui declared Radio Pakistan a “national heritage”, stating that all possible steps would be taken to ensure its development and progress.
The committee discussed various formulas for revenue generation and also directed the PBC officials to come up with a business plan to meet future expenses of the institution.
“We will reach out to the prime minister, if need be, for sustainability of our national asset in the form of Radio Pakistan,” said Mr Siddiqui.
The sub-committee also sought a list of all employees and pensioners and their financial issues to address them effectively.
This is not the first time that a suggestion to levy radio fee had come from members of the parliament as a similar proposal was floated by the members of the National Assembly’s committee on information in February 2012.
The idea of imposing a heavy cess on sale of all categories of motor vehicles to help the PBC become self-reliant had been floated by former PML-N MNA from Rawalpindi Shakil Awan.
Before Mr Awan, the senior PBC officials in the same meeting had suggested to levy a “broadcast cess” on mobile phone users to generate funds for the state-run institution.
The committee members — belonging to almost all parties, were so impressed with the idea that they converted the proposals into their own recommendation for the ministry of finance to make it a part of the budget. However, the proposal could not materialise due to a strong opposition from the masses.
It was only the PML-Q’s Bushra Rehman who had opposed the idea of levying tax on cell-phone users, saying that the facility was being used by the poor and middle class people who were already under extreme financial burden.
However, some lawmakers were of the view that mobile phones were being used as source of entertainment by a large number of people who even spent the whole night in making calls and chatting on phones and they should be taxed.
Belum Hasnain, the then chairperson of the committee, had reportedly stated that the members had recommended that “a broadcast cess may be levied at a rate of two per cent on users of mobile phones so that estimated Rs4.5 billion per year could be collected for the PBC.
Moreover, she had said the committee had also recommended that a “one-time broadcast cess at the rate of Rs4,000 per unit be levied on sale of all categories of motor vehicles through which an estimated amount of Rs896 million could be collected by the PBC”.
The then information secretary had told the committee that the government was not in a position to provide financial support to the PBC which, according to him, needed to explore other sources of income to become self-reliant.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2023
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