Friday Feb 17 2023

National Assembly session adjourned till Monday without voting on mini-budget

Members National Assembly participating in the budget debate on Friday. —NA Twitter
Members National Assembly participating in the budget debate on Friday. —NA Twitter

  • NA session adjourned till February 20 at 5pm. 
  • PPP's lawmaker urges govt to lessen burden on poor. 
  • MQM-P's leader says party with govt to prevent country from defaulting.

The National Assembly session was adjourned on Friday without voting on the finance bill after a brief debate on the budget proposals.

"The NA session has been adjourned to meet again on Monday, the 20th February, 2023 at 5:00 pm," it was announced on the official Twitter handle of the lower house.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tabled the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2023 in both houses on Wednesday in a bid to generate Rs170 billion in revenue. 

Dar, while speaking to reporters after the session, said that he expects the bill to be passed in both houses by Monday or Tuesday as Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani has "given us till Friday".

Pakistan is in dire need of funds as it battles a wrenching economic crisis as the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP)-held foreign exchange reserves barely cover one month of imports.

‘WhatsApp, Twitter should also be taxed’

While participating in the budget debate today, Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) lawmaker Qadir Khan Mandokhail urged the government to lessen the burden on the poor, saying that they should be taken care of.

Talking about the money bill, Mandokhail questioned the finance minister about whether taxes have been imposed on luxury bungalows. He said that social media apps WhatsApp and Twitter should also be taxed.

The PPP leader said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) tried sabotaging the IMF agreement, adding that Shaukat Tarin, Mohsin Leghari and Taimur Jhagra's audios have exposed this.

Meanwhile, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Salahuddin criticised the finance minister for being non-serious while presenting the mini-budget. "The level of seriousness was that he [Dar] left soon after presenting the bill," he said.

"We are here with the government just because we don't want the country to default," he said, adding that they were here with the previous government as well to push the country out of the economic crisis. 

Finance bill proposals

  • Increase in GST on luxury items from 17% to 25%
  • FED on business and first-class air tickets be increased to Rs20,000 or 50% — whichever is higher
  • 10% withholding adjustable advance income tax to be imposed on marriage halls
  • Increase in FED on cigarettes, soft and sugary drinks
  • FED on cement to be raised from Rs1.5 kg to Rs2 kg
  • Increase in GST from standard 17% to 18%
  • GST to not be imposed on essential goods — wheat, rice, milk, pulses, vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, meat
  • BISP stipend to be increased; govt to allocate Rs400 billion for programme

The revenue measures, announced in the money bill, were incorporated to woo the Fund and strike a staff-level agreement with the lender.

Pakistan government and the IMF could not reach a deal last week and a visiting IMF delegation departed Islamabad after 10 days of talks, but said negotiations would continue. 

An agreement on the ninth review of the programme would release over $1.1 billion of the total $2.5 billion pending as part of the current package agreed upon in 2019 which ends on June 30. 

The two sides are holding virtual talks in order to iron out differences over the fiscal measures. 

‘Death warrant’

Meanwhile, during a debate on the budget proposals in the Senate today, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar slammed the PTI-led government, saying that no one is happy with the inflation but whatever happened in the last four years should be put forward.

"Who signed an agreement with the IMF on petroleum levy and the power tariff?" he questioned while pointing towards the Opposition benches.

"This is the money bill that you [the PTI] had written during your tenure," he stated.

He said that the government has imposed a tax on luxury items so that the common man is not affected.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed called the mini-budget a "death warrant", saying that the mini-budget was not prepared in Pakistan but in IMF's office.