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Experts suggest improvement in mini-budget demanding tax net expansion

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ISLAMABAD: The amendments presented in the finance bill 2018-19 lacks direction and vision, as the government missed the opportunity to present out of the box solutions to fix the economic woes. Overall the mini budget did not meet the expectations as it incentivizes non-tax return filers, whereas taxpayers were further burdened.

These were the views expressed by the speakers representing business community and civil society during a discussion on ‘Amendments in Finance Bill 2018-19’, organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), here on Monday.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Senator Nouman Wazir Khattak said that when PTI came into power, the economy was in shambles. He said that his government raised the tax rates on imports of only luxury items to cut the import bill. He said that the government would take concrete measures with consultation of stakeholders to bring the non-taxpayers into tax net. He said that the government requires at least next 3 to 4 months analyzing economic crisis and finding ways out coming out of the crisis. For future taxation measures, we need stakeholders’ consultations and also need to take the business community on board, he added.

Nouman Wazir said that Pakistan is almost lagging behind even at current growth rate of 5 to 6 percent. He said we require 10 percent growth rate and all the growth sectors should be exclusively provided with the task of growth with comprehensive road map. Our foreign policy has to be aligned with economy and trade, he added.

Farhatullah Babar, Former Senator, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian (PPP-P) said that the mini budget presented by the government was utter disappointment, as it supports the corrupt mafia of the country. He said that the biggest corruption is deeply rooted in sale and purchase of land and the budget rewards the corrupt land mafia. He said that by allowing non-taxpayers and non-filers to purchase land and motor cars, the government has legitimized corruption. He said that the government has failed to provide a comprehensive road map to revamp and streamline economy and regional trade. No economy of the world has sign of improvement without trade with its neighbor, he added.

Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director, SDPI said that the government has tried to keep the income tax structure progressive through maintaining the low rate of tax on lower income groups. The advanced tax on transaction through the banking system by non-filers was increased. He said that this measure should be accompanied by a reduction in time and cost of becoming a filer, where all scheduled banks should be allowed the powers to facilitate a willing person to become a filer. He said that the government may like to revisit its decision to allow non-filers to purchase property and motor vehicles. The exemptions and reduced rates allowed by the government in sale tax and customs duty should be time bound and not for indefinite period, he added.

Dr Vaqar said that to curtail non-essential imports, the government has increased duties on imported vehicles. This increase may not be enough in light of past experience to reduce non-essential imports. Instead of slashing the size of development budget, the government should focus on slashing number of ministries merging the attached departments, he proposed. The government should also aim to remove the current distortions in the tax code such as consolidation of over 60 withholding taxes provisions, over 50 indirect taxes and over a dozen taxes have overlap with provincial revenue jurisdictions, he added.

Dr. Shumail Daud Arain, Former President Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce & Industry (RCCI) said that we were expecting the tough decisions on taxation front but on contrary there is precarious situation for the taxpayers. He said that the government missed the opportunity in the mini budget to bring the non-taxpayers into the tax net.  The overall measures so far taken by the incumbent government are similar to old budgets. He said that the mini budget does not show any direction and does not show any vision.

Shaban Khalid, Former President Islamabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ICCI) said that the business community was hoping substantial initiation on increasing the tax base but the mini budget fell short of expectations as several previous federal budgets did. He said that though the government tried to rationalize the tax rate for salaried class but tax base was not increased. He said that the current government aim to achieve the target of 100 billion rupee is skeptical and threat for the business community, as these taxes may be collected from the existing taxpayers when there are no new tax payers.

President Rawalpindi Islamabad Tax Bar Association (RITBA), Syed Touqeer Bukhari said that there was no encouragement, relaxation or any offer for the tax filers, whereas non-taxpayers were awarded with relaxations.

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