• Finance Bill imposing Rs215bn more taxes approved
• Asif urges NA not to pass bill seeking perks for senators
• Lawmakers to leave for Haj today by special flight

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Sunday approved the next fiscal year’s budget, which was revised a day earlier to meet International Monetary Fund conditions in a last-ditch attempt by the government to secure much-needed bailout funds.

The IMF was dissatisfied with the initial budget, passed on June 9, saying it was a missed opportunity to broaden the tax base in a more progressive way.

On Saturday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made several changes to the budget, introducing new taxes and expenditure cuts.

He said the government now aims to generate another Rs215 billion in taxes and cut spending by Rs85bn in the next fiscal year, without reducing the federal development budget or the salaries and pensions.

This will revise the government’s revenue collection target to Rs9.415 trillion and put total spending at Rs14.48tr, he said. The share of the provinces would be increased to Rs5.39tr from Rs5.28tr.

There are five days to go before the IMF’s $6.5bn Extended Fund Facility, agreed in 2019, expires on June 30. The global lending agency has to review whether to release some of the $2.5bn still pending to Pakistan before then. The tranche has been stalled since November.

Other changes announced by Mr Dar on Saturday included raising the petroleum levy development to Rs60 per litre and lifting import restrictions enforced in December to limit the current account deficit.

The National Assembly passed that revised budget with a majority vote on Sunday after clause-by-clause reading. The Finance Bill’s passage has ended the budgetary process that started on June 9.

The bill would now go to President Arif Alvi for assent, who will sign it into law, and it will take effect from July 1.

The budget was revised after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on the sidelines of a global financing summit in Paris last week, followed by three days of virtual talks between the two sides.

Under the IMF programme’s ninth review, negotiated earlier this year, Pakistan has desperately been trying to secure the IMF funds, which are crucial to unlock other bilateral and multilateral financing for the country.

During the assembly session on Sunday, PML-N’s allies PPP and MQM-P decried such last-minute changes in the budget, which indicated that coalition partners had not been taken into confidence on what Prime Minister Sharif finalised during recent meetings with the IMF chief.

Interestingly, all amendments proposed by the lone opposition lawmaker — Maulana Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami — were rejected except one which benefited all members and was passed smartly by Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who was presiding over the house.

In that amendment, Mr Chitrali said all MNAs were entitled to get cars with an engine capacity of 1,600 cubic centimetres, but they were given 1,200cc or 1,300cc vehicles.

Mr Chitrali’s proposal, like all his other amendments, was earlier rejected by the treasury benches, but the speaker intervened and said it was passed because it had not been opposed by the finance minister.

Federal Minister for Water Resources Syed Khusheed Shah of PPP lamented the imposition of more taxes and duties on fertiliser. “The whole agriculture sector was being destroyed just to run a fertiliser factory,” he said.

Another federal minister Syed Riaz Hussain Pirzada alleged that Israel and India wanted to ruin Pakistan’s agriculture sector, something he said was also done with Syria.

The MQM-P opposed additional taxes and duties on the import of fibre-optic cables and feared that the specific amendments would affect the IT industry and telecommunication sector.

Mohsin Dawar, an ally of the government, called for extending the tax holidays for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), saying the tax recess of five years, which was later extended for another five years, had remained futile as the economic zone proposed for the tribal areas to benefit industries could not function.

He also expressed displeasure over the lack of basic facilities and infrastructure in the tribal areas.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the issues would be discussed later with the cabinet members who had shown concern, saying that taxes and duties were imposed under compulsion.

Special Haj flight

As the budget has been passed, a special Haj flight is leaving on Monday (today) to take several parliamentarians to Saudi Arabia so that they can join pilgrims in performing the Haj.

Mr Dar told the National Assembly that the arrangements were made after Saudi authorities accepted a request from Islamabad to allow a special PIA flight for the parliamentarians who took part in the budget debate. He claimed that all legislators were going for Haj on their own expanses.

Perks for senators

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif urged the National Assembly not to pass bills entitling the Senate chairman and his colleagues to certain privileges and allowances, insisting that the country’s crippling economy did not allow such incentives.

He also urged parliamentarians not to avail government’s security squad, warning that citizens already crushed by unprecedented inflation would “curse” legislators.

The minister said that except for those constitutional positions entitled to government security, no other parliamentarian should avail this, and they should take private security in case of any threat.

“I have great respect for the Senate chairman and senators as I started my political career in the Senate. But when we use government security, it means we humiliate the common man and business community who are already facing a difficult time,” he said.

The minister said the salary of an MNA stood at Rs 168,000 per month, which was lower than a federal secretary.

He said such privilege in the current financial circumstance could not be afforded. “Can we afford 22 servants, free air tickets and many other perks for a former senate chairman?” he questioned.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2023

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