ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly (NA) on Wednesday passed the Finance Supplementary (Amendment) Bill 2018 with a majority, reimposing the ban on non-tax filers for purchasing vehicles and property.
Finance Minister Asad Umar presented the supplementary finance bill as NA Speaker Asad Qaiser chaired the session of the House.
As the voting process began, the opposition members challenged Clause 2 of the amendment and demanded a headcount on it. The NA speaker approved the request, however, during the headcount, 158 voted in favour of Clause 2 while 120 opposed it.
A clause-wise approval of the bill was then sought in the assembly. The last amendment in the bill was presented by a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member and was regarding the increase in salaries of lawmakers and a request for the right to withdraw pension.
Finance Minister Umar objected to the recommended amendment and said, “It cannot be approved as the country’s economy is not in a state to allow it.”
The House then rejected four amendments put forth by the opposition and approved the bill through majority votes.
The NA session was then adjourned.
BAN ON NON-FILERS:
Addressing the House, Finance Minister Umar defended the amendment bill, saying it would help in managing the problems plaguing the economy.
Explaining the reimposition of the ban on non-filers, the finance minister announced that non-filers would be given some respite in the form of extra time to correct themselves, but reiterated that the state has the muscle to extract its dues.
“Non-filers still have time, they can pay their returns and become eligible to purchase property and vehicles again,” the finance minister said.
“No one should think that they will escape unscathed. Those who have massive funds in banks, their details will be obtained. Non-filers should be told that the state is not as weak as it appears and has the ‘strength’ to retrieve money from them,” he warned.
Asad said, “Non-filers will be able to purchase motorcycles under 200CC.” However, he added that relief will be granted to a few citizens.
“Overseas Pakistanis, those acquiring property through inheritance and those who earn income through informal means will be exempted from filing tax returns,” said Asad.
He also said the government had introduced a fine for those who violated the amended law.
“A campaign against non-filers was initiated a day earlier and 169 big no-filers have been issued notices,” the finance minister told the assembly. “A second phase of the campaign will also be launched this week and notices will be sent out to thousands.”
During the session, the finance minister also appealed to those belonging to the affluent class to file their tax returns. “We have extended the time for those who still want to file their returns.”
Umar added that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has been contacted to inquire details of withholding tax deducted from account holders. “We only want information of those who keep large sums of money in their accounts but are non-filers.”
“We are making use of modern methods to identify tax evaders. This recommendation has been added as an amendment in the finance bill.” The finance minister also announced a continuation in subsidies given to the agriculture sector.
“The nation’s money should be spent on the nation and they should come back and take part,” he said while adding, “We will catch those non-filers who have stashed huge amounts in their bank accounts.”
‘GOVT OF 40 DAYS CAN’T BE QUESTIONED FOR PAST 40 YEARS’:
Asad Umar’s speech followed one made by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ahsan Iqbal who criticised the new finance minister.
In response, Asad said, “They are questioning us, who have been in power for 40 days, why we cannot complete what they could not do in 40 years.”
“The PML-N never thought of the poor, which is why there was the condition of being a tax filer even for the purchase of a motorcycle. We have removed this condition even for the 200cc rickshaws so that the poor can be facilitated.”
Moreover, Asad informed the House that the PML-N government had stopped the pension of widows.
“The farmers are also close to our heart. We are giving subsidies on urea and LNG-operated plants. For Rabi season, too, we are giving subsidies worth Rs 6 billion to Rs 7 billion.”
While criticising the previous PML-N government’s performance, he asked “You had vowed to end load shedding, what happened of it?” he inquired.
Umar said the gas department alone “is in a deficit of Rs 454 billion”.
“The gas sector was fine during PPP’s government but got destroyed during the PML-N era,” he said while pointing out that some of the issues remained unresolved during the PML-N’s previous stint in power.
“If Charsadda, Bannu, Swabi, Lyari, Noshki and Khuzdar are not a part of Pakistan, then your claim to having put an end to load shedding is true,” Umar said, responding to a point raised by Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif.
“NEPRA has negated their claim to provide cheap electricity as well. Their own appointed regulator has recommended that the power tariff should be inflated by Rs3.89. All these projects whose rates are being hiked were inaugurated during their governments.”
“Independent power producers (IPP) are telling us that they do not have the capacity to produce electricity. I wish that the ones who are questioning the state of Medina also questioned their own government,” he said, visibly flabbergasted.
Moreover, Umar said, “Far-flung areas were being neglected while laying down transmission lines.”
“People of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan suffered owing to prolonged power outages and it was said that it was load shedding since they did not pay their electricity bills. Even though, the truth is that even if there is electricity, it cannot be provided to KP and Balochistan owing to a lack of transmission lines,” he said.
“Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) could not fly because the airline was in so much debt,” he criticised.
Reminding about the current economic crisis being faced by Pakistan, Asad Umar said, “The country’s circular debt increased by over Rs400 billion and then they say that streams of milk and honey used to flow during their terms.”
“The circular debt increased by exactly Rs453 billion and today the debt stands at Rs1,200 billion,” he lamented.
He informed that the previous government spent Rs61 billion on development projects, adding that the incumbent government will spend more amount on those projects in comparison to the last year.
The minister said: “We have to fix the mistakes of the past. This year we will spend more funds on development than what was spent in the previous year.”
Furthermore, the finance minister rejected the opposition’s suggestion of asking dam-fund donors about the source of their funds.