Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

Govt to abolish advance tax on sale, purchase of shares

ISLAMABAD: The government has agreed to abolish 0.02 per cent advance tax on sale and purchase of shares in the upcoming mini-budget. It was a major demand of the stock market players.

The Ministry of Finance in its summary has suggested that Section 65C of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO) allows incentives for listing by companies through tax credits. This incentive can be further enhanced to encourage new listings.

Details available from the finance ministry regarding the mini-budget, which will be announced on Jan 23rd, show that advance tax of 0.02pc on sale/purchase of shares will be abolished.

It has been highlighted that rates of advance tax on sale and purchase of securities was doubled from 0.01pc to 0.02pc through Finance Act 2016.

The advance tax of 0.02pc on purchase and sale of securities in lieu of tax on the commission earned is considered on the higher side.

The PSX proposals in this regard have been recommended by the Federal Board of Revenue too.

The second demand of the stock market players in regard to allow carry forward of capital losses up to 3 years. The finance ministry has also recommended that amendments may be carried out in the ITO to allow carry forward of capital losses made on disposal of securities.

The third demand was rationalisation of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on equities in line with real estate. The government acknowledged that anomaly in tax rates imposed on disposal of securities and sale of immovable property was discouraging investments in the capital market.

A flat rate of 15pc CGT was introduced irrespective of holding period in the Finance Act 2017, while there is no tax on gain on disposal of immovable property if the holding period is three years or more.

Meanwhile, a senior official of the finance ministry said the mini-budget will be focused on ease of doing business, encourage savings and investments in stock market and real estate sectors. For finalising the matter and take stakeholders into confidence in this regard, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan chairman and Commissioner Securities Market Division will meet the stockbrokers on Thursday in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019

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UK parliament deals historic defeat to PM May’s Brexit deal

Britain’s parliament on Tuesday voted against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a massive margin, triggering a no confidence vote that could bring down her government.

The House of Commons lower house voted 432 to 202 against May’s plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after nearly five decades, one of the biggest defeats ever suffered by a British premier.

The EU warned that the vote, which plunges Britain into uncharted waters, boosts the risk of a “no deal” Brexit.

Moments after the outcome, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted a motion of no-confidence in May’s government.

The vote is set for Wednesday.

Speaking moments before the MPs cast their ballots, May said MPs had a “duty to deliver” on the results of a 2016 referendum that started the divorce.

“I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” May said, warning MPs that the EU would not offer any “alternative deal”.

“A vote against this deal is a vote for uncertainty, division, and the very real threat of a no deal,” she argued to loud jeers from the packed chamber.

“The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.” Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of May’s government, creating an inherent contradiction that has torn apart the island nation.

And with just over two months to go until the scheduled March 29 departure, Britain still cannot decide what to do.

Know more: ,What is Brexit all about?,

May must now decide whether she tries to hold another vote, gets kicked out of office, delays Brexit — or if Brexit even happens at all.

As their nation’s fate was being decided, hundreds of noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit, some banging drums and others driving floats with huge dolls mocking top UK politicians, rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London.

“It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU.

A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square into a sea of EU flags.

One pro-Brexit activist attempting to join the rally was detained by police to shouts of “scum” from fellow protesters in an indication of rising tensions.

Others voiced their support for a second referendum, an option May’s government rules out.

‘No Deal? No problem!’

May made it her mission to carry out the wishes of voters after she became premier in July 2016, putting aside her own initial misgivings and stating repeatedly that “Brexit means Brexit”.

But facing a heavy drubbing, May decided to postpone a parliamentary vote in December on the Brexit deal in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels — and that a Christmas break would change lawmakers’ minds.

EU leaders came back with only non-binding clarifications, and just a handful of new MPs have rallied to May’s side.

The UK government’s current plan appears to be to try to ram a very similar version of the agreement through parliament on a second or possibly even third attempt.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker returned to Brussels from Strasbourg on Tuesday “to handle the situation after the vote,” according to his office.

In Strasbourg, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full renegotiation of the text.

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Bitter debates about Britain’s place in the world have dominated the national discourse ever since the referendum, dividing families and playing out in front of parliament on Tuesday.

Financial markets were also watching closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive movements.

Risk of no deal

Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, upon which May relies for her parliamentary majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

The government must set out what happens next by Monday, if — as is expected — it survives the no-confidence vote.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Brexit.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow.

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PM Khan lashes out at opposition for ‘pressure tactics’ after NA walkouts

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday lashed out at the opposition for disrupting National Assembly proceedings by staging regular walkouts.

In a tweet — which came a day after the ,opposition walked out on the opening day, of the National Assembly’s new session — the prime minister said that the repeated walkouts indicated that this was “the only function they (opposition) intend to perform”.

He claimed that walkouts are used as “pressure tactics” to “seek an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) and evade accountability for corruption in NAB (National Accountability Bureau) cases not initiated by PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf)”.

In another tweet, the prime minister wondered if democracy for the opposition meant “immunity from corruption”.

“It seems for them being elected is a license to plunder the country,” he added.

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A day earlier, PPP leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari had lashed out at NAB on the floor of the assembly, demanding that the chairman of the country’s ,top anti-corruption watchdog be summoned, before parliament for his recent actions against parliamentarians.

The opposition members then staged a walkout as soon as Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda took the floor to respond to the speeches of Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif and Zardari.

So far, the current assembly has had 34 sittings, out of which the premier has attended six, including the one held for his election as premier. The opposition has staged several walkouts from the NA since the new government came to power, leaving Speaker Asad Qaiser ,struggling with the formation of house committees, as the opposition flexes its muscles to give the ,ruling coalition a tough time, on a number of issues, including the ongoing energy crisis, ‘one-sided’ accountability, the mini-budget and the recent increase in the prices of medicines.

The delay in the formation of over three dozen committees has badly affected the legislative work of parliament, and the National Assembly is functioning with only two committees, including the Public Accounts Committee, that was formed last month after a deadlock between the government and opposition over naming Shahbaz Sharif as chairman of the committee was broken.

‘Baseless allegations’: politicians react to prime minister’s tweets

When asked about the premier’s claims that opposition was seeking an NRO by staging repeated walkouts, Leader of Opposition Shahbaz Sharif said that “the allegations hurled by Imran Khan are so baseless that they don’t merit a response”.

PPP Chairman Bilawal, while talking to DawnNewsTV, pointed out that “Imran Khan does not even come to the parliament”.

“What does he know about parliamentary proceedings?” he asked.

“The prime minister had promised that he will ,appear before the parliament and answer questions,. But that promise turned out to be false as well,” Bilawal regretted.

Referring to a proposal to grant an extension to military courts, the PPP chairman said that “it is hardly possible for his party to support the bill”. He added that the government had not yet approached his party for consultation over the matter.

Prime Minister’s aide Mirza Shahzad Akbar agreed with his leader and said that attending the National Assembly session was used as a “pretext” to escape accountability.

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PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, in a video message, claimed that “Imran Khan’s tweets show that he is worried because of the incapability of his federal cabinet”.

“The parliament whose cost Imran Khan is fretting about is the same that he remained absent from for five years,” she said and added: “Mr Imran, parliament and government are not run over Twitter.”

She also referred to the premier’s low attendance in the assembly, saying that “the Pakistani public was about to give out an advertisement to look for their prime minister.”

Aurangzeb accused Prime Minister Khan of “seeking an NRO for his ineptness by hurling allegations” and declared that the “opposition will not remain silent”.

“You will not be granted an NRO over Aleema [Khanum's overseas properties' case] and foreign funding,” the former information minister said, adding that the opposition will continue to question the poor performance of the government.

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Govt not serious in building Nai Gaj Dam, CJP tells finance minister

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, during an exchange with Finance Minister Asad Umar on Tuesday, voiced his concerns regarding the government’s “seriousness” to build dams.

Last week, Justice Nisar, who is set to retire on Jan 17, had ,regretted, that the matter of Nai Gaj Dam’s construction could not be resolved within his tenure. A three-judge SC bench last year had taken up a petition moved through senior counsel Rasheed A. Razvi highlighting hurdles in the way of Nai Gaj Dam’s construction.

The outgoing chief justice had expressed his disappointment that the matter will now be stuck with the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) before summoning Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan, Minister for Finance Asad Umar and cabinet secretary.

When the finance minister did not show up at the start of the hearing today, the deputy attorney general informed the top judge that Umar “is in a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet”.

“We had summoned him; could he not have left the meeting and come?” Justice Nisar asked. “We wanted our orders to be followed.”

A few hours later, when the minister appeared before the bench, the chief justice addressed him, saying: “I don’t think the government is serious regarding the building of the dam.”

“This issue came under my knowledge when it was presented in the Ecnec (Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec),” the finance minister explained to the Supreme Court bench. “An application regarding the Nai Gaj Dam was presented in Ecnec yesterday and we referred it to the cabinet.”

“Then there is no coordination in your government,” Justice Nisar countered.

“It is possible, sir,” Umar said as he did not offer a defence to the judge’s remarks.

“The government means government and the federation means federation,” Justice Nisar said as he regretted that “the pace with which we want to resolve this issue is not being done”.

“You folks cannot work,” the judge told the minister. “Your love for this country has diminished. The bureaucracy does not have the passion and intention to work.

“We do not want to dictate this government. We do not want to run this government either. We have [only] worked on the fundamental rights of the people.”

At this, the finance minister acknowledged the chief justice’s work and told him that “the history will remember you for your work regarding dams.”

Umar also assured the judge that the Nai Gaj Dam’s matter will be discussed during an Ecnec session on Jan 25.

The bench instructed the minister to inform the court regarding dam-related decisions taken in Ecnec immediately after its scheduled session.

Subsequently, the case’s hearing was adjourned for two weeks.

Outside the court, the finance minister again commended Justice Nisar. “It’s the chief justice’s passion that dams get built and water crisis gets resolved,” he said. “We appreciate his efforts.”

When reminded by media personnel of the chief justice’s remarks regarding a lack of coordination between government institutions, Umar did not discount the possibility of there being merit in the judge’s assessment. “It is possible that we may have been lacking on this issue,” he said.

The finance minister, in the same media briefing, claimed that the upcoming mini-budget, set to be presented on Jan 23, will not increase taxes but instead boost exports.

“The mini-budget will result in increasing the [flow of] investment and business,” the PTI leader said.

The government recently decided to shelve a major power project pushed by the PML-N regime under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

When asked today if the government plans to shut down many CPEC projects, Umar clarified that the projects under consideration are the one that had never been finalised.

Furthermore, the finance minister claimed that “we will focus on industrial production and commerce in the next phase of CPEC.”

He also told the media to not worry the public regarding the state of the country’s economy.

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A resounding thumbs-down awaits British PM in historic Brexit deal vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crushing defeat in a historic vote in parliament on Tuesday over the ,Brexit deal, she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next and the only suspense over the vote is the scale of May’s defeat.

The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs appear to have fallen on deaf ears and how much she loses by could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit — or if Britain even leaves the EU at all.

The composition of the UK parliament.

The composition of the UK parliament.

“When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house [...] and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union,” May asked MPs on the eve of the vote.

Brexit deal: ,The end of a loveless 46-year marriage,

In the event of a defeat, the government must set out what happens next by Monday at the latest.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that whatever the outcome, May could ask to delay Brexit. A diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

Theresa May postponed a House of Commons vote on the deal in December, facing certain defeat, and has since offered MPs clarifications she hopes will convince them. ? AFP

Theresa May postponed a House of Commons vote on the deal in December, facing certain defeat, and has since offered MPs clarifications she hopes will convince them. ? AFP

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period to provide continuity until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours this spring with no new arrangements to ease the blow.

A German government spokesperson on Tuesday denied a report in The Sun tabloid that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had suggested to May in a phone-call that the EU could grant extra concessions in the event of a defeat.

“The chancellor has given no assurances,” he said.

‘No Deal? No problem!’

Opposition to the deal forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning extra concessions from Brussels but EU leaders offered only a series of clarifications and have ruled out re-negotiating the deal.

The vote is the climax of over two years of intense national debate after the shock Brexit referendum of 2016 — a result that mostly pro-Remain MPs have struggled with.

Read: ,What is Brexit all about?,

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Pro- and anti-Brexit campaigners rallied outside parliament ahead of the vote. One placard read “EU Membership is the Best Deal”, another said: “No Deal? No Problem!”

Uncertainty over Brexit has hit the British economy hard. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) lobby group on Tuesday warned MPs that Britain crashing out of the EU would be “catastrophic”.

Financial markets will also be watching the result very closely, with several currency traders roping in extra staff around the time of the vote and at least one putting a cap in trades to avoid excessive currency movements.

Frustration

Rather than heal the divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum, the vote has reignited them. Pro-European MPs campaigning to force a second vote say they have faced death threats and harassment outside parliament.

Brexit supporters around the country have also voiced growing frustration with what they see as parliamentary blockage of their democratic vote.

Criticism is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

May has offered parliament greater oversight of this so-called backstop and EU leaders have also given written assurances that the arrangement would not become permanent.

A handful of Conservative MPs have changed their minds to back the deal but the core of May’s critics say she has not done enough.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party on whom May relies for her Commons majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

“We fought (against) a terrorist campaign (in order) to stay part of the United Kingdom,” he said, evoking Northern Ireland’s past conflict.

“We are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said May had “completely and utterly failed” to ease MPs’ concerns and said if she loses the vote on Tuesday night, she must call an election.

His party has said it will call a confidence vote in her government “soon” after the virtually certain defeat.

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Govt puts major CPEC power project on hold

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has decided to shelve a major power project pushed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz regime under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and will axe hundreds of other schemes under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) later this month.

Background discussions with government officials suggest that Islamabad has officially conveyed to Beijing that it is no more interested in the 1,320MW Rahim Yar Khan power project in view of sufficient generation capacity already lined up for the next few years. It has requested the Chinese friends to formally delete the project from the CPEC list.

During the 8th Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) meeting held last month, a Pakistani delegation led by Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar “proposed to remove the Rahim Yar Khan imported fuel power plant (1,320MW) from the CPEC list, in order to provide structure optimisation space for the subsequent power market of Pakistan”, said an official, quoting minutes of the Dec 20 JCC meeting.

Hundreds of schemes under PSDP also face the axe

The Chinese side suggested that a joint study on optimisation of energy mix be carried out at the earliest.

The project was originally pushed as imported coal-based plant by Quaid-i-Azam Thermal Company of the Punjab government led by Shahbaz Sharif who used to attend meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Energy led by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. A leading business tycoon had proposed the project and was expected to be one of the key sponsors.

The project was removed from the CPEC priority list when then bureaucracy highlighted that surplus generation capacity had already been contracted and more contracts would lead the country to ‘capacity trap’. The government had already notified a ban on capacity addition on imported fuels as early as June 2016 and the Rahim Yar Khan and Muzaffargarh coal-based plants were removed from the CPEC priority list. Among other reasons, this led to unceremonious removal of the then power secretary and head of the National Transmission Company — the system operator.

The Punjab government had pushed for revival of the plant which was included again in the priority list in subsequent CPEC negotiations, according to a federal secretary. It was not needed at all and would have been a burden on the already deteriorating financial condition of the power sector, he said, adding that Diamer-Bhasha dam was also included in the CPEC list when the coal-based projects were removed, but the dam project could also not move forward under the CPEC for unrelated reasons.

The official said the PTI government had already made up its mind to remove almost 400 “politically motivated” projects from the development portfolio as part of a comprehensive mid-year review of the PSDP later this month. Giving an example, the official said the last government had included hundreds of gas schemes in the PSDP and allocated funds even though there was no additional gas available for new connections. Many of these schemes could not take off.

“We are reviewing all such schemes in detail; we do not want to waste public funds where lien has been created or sufficient progress achieved, but we definitely don’t like to throw good money after bad,” a cabinet member told Dawn, claiming that more than 20 seats went to the PML-N in the last elections due to constituency politics of gas connections.

He said the mid-term review of the PSDP would be held in the last week of January and about Rs2 trillion worth of development projects would be revised. He said that most of the unapproved projects at the level of the Central Development Working Party or the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council and unfunded schemes would be excluded from the PSDP.

The cabinet member said that at least 400 projects included in the PSDP did not receive funding over the past four years and yet they were part of the programme. But he hastened to add that the Rs675 billion federal development budget approved by parliament in September this year would not be reduced further even though adjustments would be made where necessary to divert funds from problematic projects to more deserving ones for effective funding utilisation.

He said the PSDP used to get average Rs55bn additional funds over the past five years for development projects but most of them had not been given funds because the overall development portfolio expanded significantly. He said that all secretaries would be asked to provide unnecessary schemes under the respective ministries and divisions during the mid-year review so as to complete maximum projects in the minimum time period.

The federal government’s overall development portfolio stood at about Rs6tr and with the current pace, allocation of funds would take 9-10 years to complete even if no fresh development project was taken up, an official said. The PSDP size would remain unchanged at Rs675, but throw-forward would be significantly reduced through revision in the number of projects and their rationalised costs, he added.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019

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Opposition set to give tough time to ruling coalition in NA

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly is set to go into its seventh session on Monday (today) with Speaker Asad Qaiser still ,struggling with the formation, of the house committees as the opposition parties flexing its muscles to give a tough time to the ruling coalition on a number of issues, including the ongoing energy crisis, alleged one-sided accountability process, the government’s move to present another mini-budget and the recent increase in the prices of medicines.

The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is also planning a strong protest on the floor of the assembly, if the speaker does not issue the production order for former railways minister Khwaja Saad Rafique, who has been in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) along with his brother Salman Rafique in connection with an inquiry into a housing society scam.

Sources in the National Assembly Secretariat told Dawn that the speaker had already ,issued the production order, for Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif while the process of the issuance of the production order for Mr Rafique was under way.

Seventh session of National Assembly begins today

Mr Sharif has been attending the NA sessions and meetings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the speaker’s production orders since his arrest by NAB on Oct 6 last year in the Ashiyana housing scam.

Mr Rafique had been ,arrested by NAB on Dec 11, last year at a time when the assembly was already in session. The opposition parties had lodged a strong protest and even boycotted most of the sittings before the speaker issued production order only a day before prorogation of the house on Dec 21.

The speaker has already summoned a meeting of the House Business Advisory Committee comprising representatives of all the parties present in the assembly before start of the session in which he is expected to take up the issue of the formation of the committees, besides discussing the agenda for the upcoming session which is expected to continue for more than two weeks as the government intends to present a mini-budget on Jan 23.

Finance Minister Asad Umar, while speaking to the members of the business community during his visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Saturday, had announced that the government would ,present a mini-budget on Jan 23, and dispelled the impression that it would be loaded with new taxes.

Mr Umar had admitted that last year had been difficult not only for the government but also for the business community as during the five months (July-November) of the current financial year, only $818 million came under Foreign Direct Investment against $1.35 billion in the same period last financial year.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N are questioning the government’s move to present second mini-budget in less than six months.

Strongly opposing the plan, PPP’s vice president Senator Sherry Rehman had asked if the government, which was determined to bring about a revolution, would introduce mini-budgets every four months. She alleged that the mini-budget was being unveiled to meet the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund.

She regretted that just a day after an increase in the prices of drugs, the government announced its plans about unveiling a mini-budget.

Similarly, the PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, had also questioned the government’s move to present another mini-budget. Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, the PML-N leaders had lashed out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for its “directionless and failed” economic policies, which had drastically brought down the country’s growth rate in just five months.

House committees

Despite succeeding in ,breaking the deadlock, between the government and the opposition over the issue of the PAC chairmanship last month, Speaker Asad Qaiser is still struggling to complete the process of the formation of house committees.

The delay in the formation of over three dozen committees has badly affected the legislative work of parliament, and the National Assembly which came into existence in August after the general elections held in July is functioning with only two committees, including the PAC.

Sources said that an understanding between the government and the opposition had already been reached on the distribution of the chairmanship of 38 standing committees. Under the agreed formula, the chairmanship of 18 committees would go to the opposition while the remaining 20 committees would be headed by the PTI and its allies.

However, they said, the two sides were yet to discuss the committees to be distributed among the treasury and the opposition members. The opposition parties, the sources said, wanted to head the important committees like interior, foreign affairs, power and finance.

The speaker had met Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan and the opposition leaders in the last two days and after his meeting with the government and the opposition representatives, he expressed the hope that he would constitute the committees during the session.

Meanwhile, the NA Secretariat on Sunday issued a nine-point agenda for the Monday’s sitting which includes presentation of a report by the government on “I-Voting Pilot test in 35 constituencies held on October 14 last year, as required under Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017”.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019

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Minister terms all previous budgets fake

LAHORE: Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said that all previous budgets were fake and now real budgets were being presented.

“The upcoming January 23 mini-budget will lay a foundation of Pakistan’s strong economy,” he said and added that the PTI government would come up to the expectations of people.

The information minister’s remarks come a day after Finance Minister Asad Umar on Saturday dispelled the impression that the ,upcoming mini-budget, would be loaded with new taxes. While addressing members of the business community in Karachi, Mr Umar had said that the mini-budget would focus on ease of doing business and measures to facilitate trade and industrialisation.

Says governance will improve in two to three years

The information minister urged people to have trust in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, adding that governance would improve in two to three years.

“Have patience for two to three years and this government’s governance will be of par excellence,” he told the media at ThinkFest at Alhamra Arts Council.

Mr Chaudhry said PM Khan did not believe in giving relief (NRO) to any corrupt.

“One has already landed in jail, while the other will follow suit,” he said while referring to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, respectively.

He reiterated that Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari were pressurising (the government) in and out of parliament but they would not get any NRO.

The information minister said that Mr Sharif’s and Mr Zardari’s parties had collapsed.

“They have dug their political graves with their style of politics. We didn’t contribute anything [to their troubles],” Mr Chaudhry said.

The minister expressed wonder over the way the trial of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif was being conducted, saying they were enjoying all freedom when compared with incarceration of Wali Khan, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and other high-profile people who remained in prison. “Nawaz Sharif flew to London during his trial and his lawyers cross-examined witnesses for 22 days.”

He said that Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif was in jail only on papers as he was living in his house and holding meetings and sometimes even called the NAB and prosecutors to appear before him. “I haven’t seen such a trial in my life,” he said and added, “still they are heading towards their political death”.

Responding to a question about former US Ambassador Cameron Munter that Pakistan had misused funds given by the US to counter terrorism as well as promote education, Mr Chaudhry brushed aside Mr Munter’s statement, saying he had retired long ago and did not know anything happening now.

He pointed out that the US had already discontinued the Coalition Support Fund. However, he added, Pakistan-US relations were now improving. He said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited Pakistan and later Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met him in Washington leading to improvement in Pak-US ties.

“I guess Munter has not visited Washington for quite some time,” he said.

Referring to the PPP leaders’ names on the ECL, he said the direction was given by the JIT and the government had just implemented it.

Regarding his re-scheduled visit to Sindh and PPP minister Saeed Ghani’s assertion that he could stop him entering Sindh, Mr Chaudhry said Sindh was part of Pakistan and no one could stop him from going there. He said he was going to Sindh in connection with the affairs of his ministry and would obviously meet his colleagues there.

Mr Chaudhry said the information ministry would come up with a calendar of mega events in the country in a couple of weeks to allow space to thinkers and writers to speak up their minds.

Emphasising the need for promotion of tourism, he said Pakistan had decided to allow visa-free entry to people from 66 countries.

“People from across the globe will be invited to participate in various literary, cultural, social and religious festivals,” the minister said and added that the government was working on mechanisms to keep the events safe.

He said authors would be encouraged and film industry would be revived.

“PM Imran Khan’s vision is not just political but also social, and he wants to generate activity that will bring people closer unlike past rulers, who only worked to fill their coffers,” Mr Chaudhry said.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019

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PML-N calls for JIT to probe closure of cheap power plants

ISLAMABAD: The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has expressed serious concerns over the ongoing energy crisis in the country and called for constitution of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe into the “closure of world’s cheapest power plants” in the country.

Speaking at a news conference at the National Press Club on Saturday, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former minister of state for finance Miftah Ismail and the party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb lashed out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for its “directionless and failed” economic policies, which had drastically brought down the country’s growth rate in just five months.

“This government has failed in just five months. The country is in a state of recession. The growth rate has come down to four per cent and inflation is constantly increasing,” said Mr Abbasi.

The former prime minister claimed that when the PTI government came to power, there was no shortage of electricity and gas in the country. He alleged that the government was generating some 4,200 megawatts of electricity through furnace oil, which was considered to be the most expensive way of producing electricity.

“The world’s cheapest power plants are closed and electricity is being produced through most expensive fuel, causing a daily loss of Rs1 billion to the national exchequer,” he said, demanding that an inquiry should be ordered to probe why cheaper power plants had been closed.

“Since a new culture of forming JITs has been developed in the country, I demand that a JIT be formed to find out those responsible for the present energy crisis in the country,” Mr Abbasi said.

The former premier said when the PML-N had assumed power in 2013 the country was facing worst kind of electricity and gas loadshedding. However, he said, it was the PML-N government which brought the country out of the energy crisis under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif. He, however, regretted that due to “incapability” of the present rulers, this was the second consecutive month that the people had been suffering from electricity and gas shortages.

The PML-N leader castigated the government for removing heads of two gas utilities, stating that they could not be held responsible for the gas shortage. Without elaborating, he also accused the government of “diverting” the ships carrying LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas).

Responding to the allegations regarding corruption in the LNG deal with Qatar, he said he took all the responsibility for bringing LNG to the country and was ready to defend it at any forum.

Speaking on the occasion, former finance minister Miftah Ismail alleged that the government had already borrowed Rs1,400 billion from the State Bank of Pakistan whereas the PML-N government had borrowed Rs288bn from the SBP during its entire five-year term.

Mr Ismail, who had presented the last budget of the PML-N government, explained that borrowing from the SBP meant printing of more currency and increase in inflation. He said the PTI had promised to provide 10 million jobs in five years for which a growth rate of nine to 10 per cent was required. He said the PML-N government had brought down the inflation to a single digit from the 14 per cent it had inherited in 2013. The inflation, he regretted, was again showing an upward trend.

Responding to a question, Mr Abbasi said that due to the “visionless economic policies” of the rulers, the government now intended to present a second mini-budget within six months. He said the government had been forced to present another mini-budget as it had failed to meet the revenue target and stop increase in its own expenses due to rising inflation.

He said the government was planning to put more burden on the masses to pay off Rs400bn interest on loans.

Responding to another question, Mr Abbasi said that so far the government had not contacted the opposition on the issue of the military courts. He, however, said that the government would have to explain before parliament why there was a need for giving another extension to the military courts. The former premier also accused the government of using the exit control list (ECL) as a tool to victimise its opponents.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2019

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Asad says tax-free mini-budget to be unveiled on 23rd

KARACHI: Dispelling the impression that the up­­coming mini-budget be­ing announced on Janu­ary 23 would be loaded with new taxes, federal Minister for Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs Asad Umar has said that it will focus on ease of doing business and other measures to facilitate trade and industrialisation.

The minister was addressing members of the business community during his visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) on Saturday.

The minister also visited the residence of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) member and former chairman of Rice Exporters Asso­ciation of Pakistan (Reap) Rahim Janoo.

Talks with IMF under way though govt not in a hurry to approach it for support, minister tells business community

Mr Umar said last year had been difficult not only for the government but also for the business community as during the five months of the current fiscal (July-Nov­e­mber) only $818 million came under Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) against $1.35 billion in the same period of last financial year.

However, he said, the country’s standing in the index for ease of doing business improved to 136 from a recent ranking of 147 among 190 countries but the PTI government would strive hard to bring it down to double digit.

The minister disclosed the World Bank had taken a number of measures for improving ease of doing business for Pakistan but they were still below the level of other economies in the region.

He said cost of doing business was a major problem for the industry in Pakistan as it was higher than other regional countries particularly with regard to the utilities costs and tariffs. Citing an example, he said gas tariffs in Bangladesh, India and Vietnam are $3.35, $4.60 and $6 respectively, whereas it was $7.96 along with added cost of Rs2,000 as Gas Infrastruc­ture Develop­ment Cess (GIDC) in Pakistan.

The minister agreed that multiple taxes in Pakistan was another hurdle in fast industrialisation and economic growth as a lot of time was consumed by entrepreneurs in sorting tax issues and all this had to be corrected in due course as the government was fully committed to promoting investment and generating jobs.

Rs400bn refunds outstanding

Responding to a question raised by FPCCI President Daroo Khan Achakzai, the minister said that Rs400 billion outstanding refunds pending with the government and belonging to export trade would be disbursed soon.

The finance minister said the country’s biggest province Balochistan deserved to be given special attention as the country’s development depended on its progress and prosperity.

Border trade

He said that for improving border trade at Chaman, a special committee had been set up under Balochistan Chief Minister Jamal Kamal Khan and commander of the army’s southern command, and provincial finance minister and members of the Quetta chamber as its members.

Mr Umar said the government wanted to bring structural changes in border trade and also make it legal as locals had been depending on it for centuries. He also said that credit facility would be provided for trade in Balochistan, as banks were currently reluctant to give credit.

Mr Umar said that a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Gwadar was being developed but it would take some time. He said both the federal and provincial governments had agreed to work in the meantime on existing industrial estate at Hub and all infrastructure facilities including power of 1,200 megawatts would be set up. “We are focused to remove all unnecessary departments, which become hurdle in way of progress and added that presently five departments are engaged in a work that could be done by one,” he lamented.

Responding to a question, the minister said negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were under way though the government was not in a hurry to approach the IMF for support.

Addressing the business community, Mr Umar said the private sector would have a leading role in the 21st century whereas the government would only provide infrastructure and work as facilitator by removing all sorts of bottlenecks for quick investment and industrialization.

He said professionals were being inducted in financial institutions on merit while the discretionary powers of low-ranking officials of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) were being withdrawn.

In reply to a question, the minister said there was nothing secret about the debts taken under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as their details had already been made public.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2019

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Not going to IMF for now, mini-budget to be unveiled on Jan 23: Asad Umar

The federal government has decided not to enter an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme for now, Finance Minister Asad Umar said on Saturday.

The finance minister made the remarks while talking to businessmen at the Karachi Chamber of Commence and Industry (KCCI).

Umar said that instead of ,rushing into the IMF programme,, the government was exploring alternative options.

Furthermore, the finance minister announced that the government will unveil a mini-budget on Jan 23 instead of Jan 21. He associated the two-day delay to an impending foreign trip of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The finance minister said that his visits of Lahore and Karachi were regarding a one-point agenda: the amended finance bill, which he said will facilitate businessmen.

Umar indicated that the amended bill will also carry “some good news” for the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) .

The minister said that he consulted all stakeholders over the upcoming mini-budget, assuring the assortment of businessmen that tax anomalies will be eliminated in the budget.

The minister rejected the impression that the government was only borrowing money, stressing that several agreements have also been signed to bring investment into the country.

“The impacts of the investment agreements will start surfacing from the next week,” he added.

Asad Umar, even before he was sworn in, had said that the economy would need an infusion of more than $12 billion within six weeks.

In a later ,interview with Bloomberg,, he had said that the nation’s financial gap was somewhere between $10bn to $12bn, adding that the new government would need a bit extra so it doesn’t “live on the edge”.

In October last year, Saudi Arabia had announced a $6 billion bailout package for Pakistan’s ailing economy. The package includes $3bn in balance of payments support and just as much in deferred payments on oil imports.

The UAE had also announced a package exactly the same size and terms and conditions as given by Saudi Arabia. The all-weather friend, China too, had pledged to lend $2 billion to Pakistan to shore up dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Moreover, Islamabad and Riyadh are expected to ink memorandum of understanding (MoUs) to bring in ,Saudi investment in excess of $10bn, this month. Pakistan is also eyeing similar MoUs with China, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia over the next two months.

The federal cabinet has also approved a strategy to issue so-called ‘Panda bonds’ in the Chinese market to raise foreign exchange from global markets.

‘Budget bomb’

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in a statement strongly opposed the government’s upcoming mini-budget.

The party’s vice president, Senator Sherry Rehman, expressed grave reservations against rising inflation and the government’s announcement of the mini budget.

“Will this inquilab sarkar (revolutionary government) announce a new mini budget every four months?” she asked.

She said that the government should make preparations for an annual budget and that this was not the time to announce a mini budget.

The PPP leader likened the decision to a “budget bomb” being dropped on the people, based on supposed conditions put forth by the IMF.

“Every month new taxes are being imposed and some commodity or the other sees a hike in prices.

“One day the ,prices of medicines go up, and the next, a mini budget is announced,” Rehman said adding that the government is “robbing the people of the right to live”.

She said that the “tsunami of change” had now transformed into a “storm of inflation”.

Rehman recalled that inflation stood at 5.8 per cent in July, whereas now it had gone up to 6.2pc.

She said that those who claimed being “friends of businessmen” are in fact their enemies and declared that the government is incapable of running the economy.

The PPP leader further criticising the government’s performance said that in the past five months, they had “done nothing but raise slogans for economy and accountability”.

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US govt approved thousands of child bride requests

WASHINGTON: Thousands of requests by men originally from other countries, including Pakistan, to bring in child and adolescent brides to live in the United States were approved over the past decade, according to government data obtained by AP news agency. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission for a 15-year-old girl.

The approvals are legal: the Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements. And in weighing petitions for spouses or fiancées, US Citizenship and Immigration Services goes by whether the marriage is legal in the home country and whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives.

Take a look: ,21pc girls in Pakistan become victim of child marriage, WHO reports,

But the data raises questions about whether the immigration system may be enabling forced marriage and about how US laws may be compounding the problem despite efforts to limit child and forced marriage. Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the US, and most states allow children to marry with some restrictions.

Pakistan among countries from where most such requests were made

There were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiancés, according to the data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017 and compiled into a report.

Some victims of forced marriage say the lure of a US passport combined with lax US marriage laws are partly fuelling the petitions.

“My passport ruined my life,” said Naila Amin, a dual citizen from Pakistan who grew up in New York City. She was forcibly married at 13 in Pakistan and applied for papers for her 26-year-old husband to come to the country.

“People die to come to America,” she said. “I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it.”

Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed to her first cousin Tariq when she was just eight and he was 21. The petition was eventually terminated after she ran away.

She said the ordeal cost her a childhood. She was in and out of foster care and group homes, and it took a while to get her life on track.

“I was a child. I want to know: why weren’t any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don’t look at it? They don’t think?” she asked.

There is a two-step process for obtaining US immigration visas and green cards. Petitions are first considered by USCIS. If granted, they must be approved by the State Department. Overall, there were 3.5 million petitions received from budget years 2007 through 2017.

Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring in minor spouses or fiancées, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses, according to the data. Additionally, there were 204 approvals of applications by minors seeking to bring in minor spouses.

Petitions can be filed by US citizens or permanent residents.

“It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close,” said Republican Sen Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship. In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50, the committee found.

Among the examples: in 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old’s petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica. A petition from a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his 17-year-old wife in Guatemala.

There are no nationwide statistics on child marriage, but data from a few states suggests it is far from rare. State laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet every state allows exceptions.

Most states let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they have parental consent, and several states including New York, Virginia and Maryland allow children under 16 to marry with court permission.

Fraidy Reiss, who campaigns against coerced marriage as head of a group called Unchained at Last, researched data from her home state of New Jersey. She determined that nearly 4,000 minors, mostly girls, were married in the state from 1995 to 2012, including 178 who were under 15. “This is a problem both domestically and in terms of immigration,” she said.

Reiss, who says she was forced into an abusive marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19, said that often cases of child marriage via parental consent involve coercion, with a girl forced to marry against her will.

“They are subjected to a lifetime of domestic servitude and rape,” she said. “And the government is not only complicit; they’re stamping this and saying: Go ahead.” The data was requested in 2017 by Johnson and then-Missouri Sen Claire McCaskill, the committee’s top Democrat. Johnson said it took a year to get the information, showing there needs to be a better system to track and vet the petitions.

“Our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children,” the senators said in the letter.

USCIS didn’t know how many of the approvals were granted by the State Department, but overall only about 2.6 per cent of spousal or fiancée claims are rejected.

Separately, the data show some 4,749 minor spouses or fiancées received green cards to live in the US over that same 10-year period.

The country where most requests came from was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen. Middle Eastern nationals had the highest percentage of overall approved petitions.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019

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President of UN General Assembly to visit Pakistan this month

UNITED NATIONS: The president of the UN General Assembly will visit Pakistan from Jan 18 to 22 at the invitation of the government, according to the spokesperson for the UNGA president.

This will be the first official visit to the Asia-Pacific region by the president of the UN General Assembly since María Fernanda Espinosa assumed office in September.

A statement said that she is “looking forward to strengthening the ties between Pakistan and the UN, promoting multilateralism and continuing my work with Pakistan on the priorities for the 73rd session of the GA”.

She will meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as well as representatives of the UN and of civil society and women’s organisations.

Ms Espinosa’s delegation includes her Chef de Cabinet, Senior Adviser, a communications specialist, a coordination officer and her personal assistant.

Travel costs are being covered by Pakistan and by the regular budget of the UNGA’s Office, according to the statement.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019

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Go to your offices daily or get ready to be replaced, PM Khan warns KP ministers

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had won the people’s mandate in the 2018 general elections without dishing out billions of rupees in development funds and solely on the basis of its performance.

Speaking at a ceremony held in connection with the completion of the ,Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s 100 days in office,, the prime minister thanked the people of KP for re-electing his party this year and said that the PTI had not employed any “traditional, political tactics” to win the polls.

PM Imran Khan inaugurated a  shelter home in Peshawar on Friday. — PID

PM Imran Khan inaugurated a shelter home in Peshawar on Friday. — PID

“In 2013 [elections], we got a coalition government and in 2018, the people of Pakhtunkhwa who never give another chance [to political parties] gave the PTI a fantastic mandate,” he said in his address at Peshawar’s Nishtar Hall.

In a reference to the PML-N, he claimed that the previous government of Punjab had spent billions in development funds in order to influence the 2018 elections.

He termed KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan as an “honest” man. He said the people had “made a lot of fun” when the PTI elected Usman Buzdar, who hails from a backward region, as the Punjab chief minister.

“The people of Punjab were in the wrong habit for the past 30 years of seeing a chief minister who acts a king,” he said, referring to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and president Shahbaz Sharif. In comparison, he said, Usman Buzdar was a “simple man” who did not use a heavy protocol or spend lavishly.

“[Buzdar] is an honest and a courageous [man] who stood up in the face of big mafias,” Khan said.

He said it was for the first time in Pakistan’s history that a government (of PTI) was making efforts to create a uniform education system in the country which he said would be crucial in bridging the rich-poor divide.

PM Khan is briefed on a shelter home in Peshawar. — PID

PM Khan is briefed on a shelter home in Peshawar. — PID

He reminded the ministers and officials seated in the audience that all of them needed to go to their offices daily and remain there till the evening, adding that he will know whether or not they are going to their offices.

“And then none of you should say ‘my ministry was taken away from me’ [if you are replaced for not going to work],” the prime minister cautioned.

In a lighter vein, Khan said previous governments always used to be afraid that if a minister is removed, he or she will form a forward bloc and “the government will be toppled”. “We don’t even face that issue now,” he added, amidst laughter from the audience.

“Keep in mind, I am receiving messages from a lot of MPAs who all want to become ministers, so if you don’t work [be ready to be replaced],” he said tongue in cheek while addressing the ministers.

The premier reminded the provincial lawmakers that the sole target of their 100-day plan should be to create policies for the uplift of the poor segment of the society. He urged the officials to remind the bureaucrats working under them that they needed to ensure ‘ease of doing business’ to generate investment in the country.

,,

‘Pakistan has arranged US-Taliban talks’

Prime Minister Khan reiterated that the same United States “that had been asking us to ‘do more’” is now asking Pakistan to facilitate its talks with the Afghan Taliban.

“When I used to say this matter cannot be resolved without dialogue, [they] would term me ‘Taliban Khan’,” he said, revealing that Pakistan had arranged talks between the US and the Taliban that are scheduled for December 17.

If peace is achieved in Afghanistan, he said, Peshawar would become a hub for tourism and commerce. He also announced that the Balahisar Fort in the city would be turned into a centre for tourism in order to generate revenue.

Khan said the government was collecting funds for the Mohmand dam, which when constructed will “solve Peshawar’s water problem forever”.

Before the ceremony, the premier inaugurated a shelter home in Peshawar during his one-day visit to the provincial capital.

PM Khan observes a shelter home in Peshawar. —PID

PM Khan observes a shelter home in Peshawar. —PID

The prime minister was also briefed on four more shelter homes that have been built by the KP government as part of its 100-day plan. The homes will have the capacity to accommodate 200 people each.

Last month, the premier had laid the foundation stone of a ,shelter house for the homeless in Lahore,.

An ,official statement, had said the prime minister would also attend a special meeting of the KP cabinet today. He will be briefed on the province’s 100-day performance.

It said that the provincial government had identified 25 initiatives to pursue during the next five years under the premier’s directions.

In health sector, the KP government has planned to recruit additional 4,000 lady health workers (LHWs) to ensure coverage of all rural areas in addition to rolling out a rural ambulance service to transport mothers and children to health facilities. The government will also ensure that 80 per cent of expectant mothers give birth in health facilities.

In agricultural sector, the government plans to introduce a functional IT-based market intelligence system to increase farmers profit by 15-20 per cent along with reclaiming 5,500 hectares of cultivatable wastelands.

It said that KP would become the first province to launch police station-based budget this year along with fourfold increase in the number of female police officers.

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‘Hope is very much in the air’: Asad Umar on Pakistan’s economy

Finance Minister Asad Umar on Wednesday asserted that surveys held following the completion of PTI government’s first 100 days in power showed that “a very clear majority of Pakistanis think the country is moving in the right direction and heading towards a better place than where it was before”.

“Hope is very much in the air,” the finance minister mentioned while being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC News programme Hard Talk.

When asked how well the government was doing to keep up with the promises made by Imran Khan before coming into power, especially given the fact that the prime minister had previously remarked that he would be “ashamed to go abroad and ask for money”, Umar responded by saying:

“When the government came into power, it was a well-known fact that Pakistan needed some kind of a bailout…the real challenge, the real decision is — and that’s how we will be judged in the future — did we take the decisions of setting the country’s economy on a path where this is going to be what I have repeatedly said, the last IMF programme if we get into one right now.”

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Umar said after he took charge as the finance minister, the government reached out to friendly countries for bilateral financial assistance as well as started a dialogue with the IMF simultaneously because it had no time to first work out a strategy and then start negotiations.

The finance minister said, the government did not wait for the IMF to impose any conditions on Pakistan to do what it was required to do.

“In the very first 100 days we increased electricity prices, gas prices, we put in place a supplementary finance budget, we increased taxes, the policy rate has been increased by the central bank, the currency rate has been adjusted by the central bank,” he explained.

He said both the monetary and fiscal policies were moving in the direction of reforms that are required by the IMF.

“We don’t need IMF’s dictation for us to do that because we believe this is what’s necessary. However, the path for reforms is different in the eyes of IMF, as we stand today, versus what we think is right.”

The finance minister said that this was what the ongoing dialogue with IMF was debating over. “There is no difference of opinion with the IMF in terms of what needs to be done. It is the pace, the sequence, and the extent which is being discussed,” he added.

To a question regarding Pakistan standing with Saudi Arabia and in return acquiring monetary assistance, while the world was shocked and disgusted over the news of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the finance minister said:

“I would be happy to be ashamed of standing up with a country with whom we have had close bilateral ties…maybe the western leaders should be ashamed of themselves talking about democracy, talking about freedoms, and still reaching out in the same Saudi pockets to take billions of dollars of business deals. The leader of the Western world Donald Trump stands up and openly says ‘I am getting too much business from Saudi Arabia for me to worry about what happened to Khashoggi.’”

He clarified Pakistan was just being consistent in the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia which has remained the same regardless of who remains in power. Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia goes back half-a-century and it had got nothing to do with Yemen or Khashoggi, he added.

With respect to the investment in Balochistan under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the minister said the Balochistan government was eager to enhance investment in the province under the CPEC project.

,,

He said Pakistan’s debts payable to China were less than 10 per cent of its total debts while the US was the largest debtor of China with over $1.3 trillion debt owed to it.

To another question, Umar said people of Balochistan were patriotic Pakistanis but there were some sponsored activities by terrorists who were trained and funded from outside Pakistan.

“There are concerted efforts led by India to damage the CPEC. People of Balochistan have elected a government that fully stands by CPEC and have also shown loyalty with Pakistan,” the finance minister said.

To a question regarding tax reforms, he said the government has taken several new initiatives aimed at enhancing the tax base and revenue to facilitate the socio-economic development of the country.

The revenue generation aspect is absolutely central to be able to deal with the horrendous challenges that we have, the finance minister said.

“The health and education situation needs drastic reforms and for that you need revenue, and for that, you need an efficient revenue authority,” Umar said, adding: “We have separated tax policy from tax administration.”

The finance minister said that almost the entire top leadership of the revenue authority has been changed.

He also said that modern technology is being utilised to chase those who were evading taxes and 3,100 of them have already been served notices, whereas a list of over 7,000 top tax evaders has been prepared.

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Balochistan cabinet shocked by CPEC presentation

KARACHI: The Balochistan cabinet was left shell-shocked at the end of a briefing on the progress of CPEC projects in the province when it was revealed that no progress has been made in any projects outside Gwadar and the meagre share of the province in the overall portfolio of CPEC projects.

The briefing was provided by the CPEC Cell that the Balochistan government has recently established with help from the World Bank.

Also read: ,Balochistan voices concern over its share in CPEC projects,

According to a source who was present during the meeting on Monday, which lasted all day, almost four hours were spent on the briefing from the cell.

The major finding of the cell was that all projects connected with the western route have seen no progress whatsoever, and the overall size of the portfolio of CPEC projects in Balochistan is miniscule where less than 9 per cent of the total committed, around $5.5 billion, is for the province and less than $1bn has been spent in four years. Of this $1bn, around $200m is accounted for by the Hub power plant.

The cabinet members described the CPEC spending thus far as “a joke” and they blasted the previous government for its inaction.

In the energy sector, the cabinet was informed that the current shortfall of 700MW in the province means that all the new power injected into the grid as a result of CPEC power projects has not found its way to Balochistan and that Makran Division has still not been connected to the national grid.

Two projects negotiated by the previous government — Quetta Mass Transit and PAT feeder to Quetta water project — will both be revisited by the new government.

“The debt and liabilities of both projects will be borne by the Government of Balochistan and the costs revealed in the feasibility are very high,” according to the source.

The Quetta Mass Transit cost, for example, is $912m which is larger than the total development budget of the provincial government. The cost of land acquisition, displacement and resettlement and income tax and customs duties are not included in this figure.

For the PAT feeder, the water will need to be pumped up to an elevation of 6,000 feet across a distance of 280km to reach Quetta, using 9 pumping stations at different points across the pipeline. The project cost is Rs40bn, also to be borne by the Balochistan government.

Outside of Gwadar, the cabinet was informed that the roads of the western route have seen no progress, and more than half of the Balochistan component of the ,western route is still not officially part of the CPEC, agenda.

Without the inclusion of these projects in the agenda of the Joint Working Group on Transport and Infrastructure, the projects are not eligible for concessionary financing from CPEC funding lines. The federal government has committed to fund these from its development budget, but thus far the allocated funds have not been released despite a passage of three years.

The cabinet members were also annoyed that the Hoshab-Basima-Sorab section of the road has been shown as part of the western route by the federal government even though this project began in 2006 and is part of the common alignment.

The cabinet members agreed that the Balochistan government will take a bold and firm line for their province in the forthcoming Joint Cooperation Committee meeting scheduled to be held in Beijing next week.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018

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PM demands extraordinary performance by ministers

ISLAMABAD: Review­ing the performance of ,first 100 days in office,, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday asked his cabinet colleagues to show ‘extraordinary performance’ to come up to his expectations and get out of the prevailing ‘extraordinary situation’ in the country.

“The circumstances are not normal. We are passing through an extraordinary situation and I expect all the ministers to show extraordinary performance,” a federal minister quoted Prime Minister Khan as saying during a nine-hour special meeting of the cabinet that reviewed the performances of 26 of the 34 ministries.

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The prime minister told the ministers that he would give them targets for the next three months against which they would have to submit implementation plans, thus dispelling an impression that the first performance review could lead to cabinet reshuffle.

This was also reaffirmed by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who said the prime minister hinting at giving specific targets for the next three months apparently meant that there would be no change at least during this period.

He said the prime minister had appreciated the performance of Minister of State for Communications Murad Saeed and hinted at elevating him to the level of federal minister.

An official said Mr Saeed had successfully organised the ,auction, of over 200 vehicles under his ministry and attached agencies.

Chairing nine-hour cabinet meeting, Imran says he will give ministers targets for next three months

The prime minister was of the opinion that former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the first leader to have talked about the common people and designed some policies as well, but all his successors followed up with the slogan of serving people in election campaigns without actually delivering on the promises.

“But I mean it. We have to take every step for the betterment of the people. People are at the centre of our government policies,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.

He said the country was currently at the crossroads and his government could not afford the option of not performing, adding that he believed in the fact that no country could make progress without poverty alleviation. The prime minister reiterated his oft-repeated statement that nobody believed in him when he started a cancer hospital or Namal University, but he was able to prove that nothing was impossible with honesty and strength of intentions.

The participants of the cabinet meeting said it was the prime minister who spoke the most and asked questions. The secretaries were given 10 minutes each to make powerpoint presentations on the performance of their respective divisions over the first 100 days, sometimes with intervention of the relevant ministers to add on to the bureaucratic input.

The prime minister told the meeting that review of performances of the remaining 16 divisions would be scheduled for a weekend to ensure that normal government working did not suffer, but did not give any specific date.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce, Industries and Production Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister for Climate Change Amin Aslam and Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari could not attend the meeting because of their other engagements.

A participant told Dawn that the prime minister did not express dissatisfaction over the performance of any minister, but spoke positively about some of the good performers, including Minister for Finance Asad Umar, Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Murad Saeed.

The source said the prime minister also appreciated the efforts of Asad Umar when the finance secretary gave a presentation on economic performance. The prime minister pointed out the increasing fiscal deficit and asked Mr Umar to keep a watch on the situation, prepare a plan and submit to him as to how to control the budget deficit.

Explore: ,Let the SBP do its job for a stable rupee,

Some important ministries like power, petroleum and planning could not make presentations due to time constraints and would be taken up next time.

An official statement said the meeting held discussions on actions already taken in terms of service delivery, austerity measures adopted and future plans in each case with a view to improving the performance under each of these heads further. It was decided that each ministry would be further tasked with a specific strategic plan for implementation spread over five years so that all concerned could work in tandem for optimum output.

It was also decided that such review meetings would be held on a quarterly basis to judge the performance of ministries, adopt midway course corrections where required, and to ensure the overall performance of the government was on track the main aim of which was improving the quality of life of people.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018

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