A pro-business budget

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar here on Tuesday tabled in parliament the Rs3.936 trillion federal budget for 2014-15 with 4.9 percent deficit, giving more relief to the rich business community and only peanuts for the poor. He also jacked up the CNG price by Rs3 per kg.

The minister proposed to raise the salaries of government employees by 10 percent and the minimum monthly wage to Rs12,000 from Rs10,000. The minimum pension is being raised from Rs5,000 to Rs6,000.

Under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), the poor will now receive Rs1,500 per month, Rs300 more compared to the previous fiscal. Now 5.3 million families will be supported instead of 4.1 million.

The government substantially reduced the subsidies to Rs203 billion from Rs323.020 billion, meaning that the masses will be exposed to more financial miseries.

The minister vowed to increase the GDP growth, to gradually rise to 7.1 percent by FY 2016-17, and said that inflation will be maintained in single digit throughout the medium term.

The most lethal step the government has taken is the huge reduction in subsidy to electricity consumers — from Rs245 billion to Rs156 billion — owing to which the tariff will jump up manifold.

The Rs3.936 trillion budget includes development budget of Rs806 billion consisting of the Federal Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) of Rs525 billion, foreign component of Rs120 billion and Rs162 billion to be generated by Wapda, NTDC and Pepco for some of their projects.

The huge amount of Rs1.325 trillion will be consumed for debt servicing and Rs700 billion for defence needs. However, the government has fixed an ambitious target of tax revenue at Rs3.129 trillion that includes the FBR taxes of Rs2.810 trillion and Rs319 billion from other tax measures.

Through non-tax measures, the government will collect Rs816 billion.The 4.9 percent budget deficit (Rs1.711 trillion) will be financed through external financing of Rs508 billion and domestic borrowing of Rs914 billion and estimated provincial surplus of Rs289 billion.

However, the consolidated budget outlay has been estimated at Rs4.074 trillion, which is 7.9 percent more than the size of the budget estimates of 2013-14. The Rs4.074 trillion consolidated budget includes Rs1.175 trillion out of which the provincial development budget would be at Rs650 billion and the federal share will stand at Rs525 billion.

With a view to taking care of the most vulnerable segments of the society, the finance minister announced a 200 percent increase in allocation of Rs118 billion for the Benazir Income Support Programme by inculcating the component of some schemes of PM’s youth program, saying the government has increased the monthly stipend by 25 percent for the poorest of the poor, from Rs1,200 to Rs1,500.

The government announced a 10 percent ad-hoc relief allowed to all the federal government employees with effect from July 1, 2014.

The minister said a 10 percent increase will be allowed to those employees in Grade-1 to Grade-15 drawing fixed medical allowance to those employees working in Grade-1 to Grade-15.

The post of superintendent has been upgraded from Grade-16 to Grade-17. One pre-mature increment will be allowed to employees of Grade-1 to 4. For welfare of the labour class, and in line with the increase in pay of government employees, the minimum wage rate is also being increased from Rs10,000 to Rs12,000.

The minister said that last year he had raised the minimum pension for government employees from Rs3,000 per month to Rs5,000, representing an increase of 67 percent. He announced further increase of Rs1,000 in minimum pension to make it Rs6,000. This means that the minimum pension has been doubled since 1st July, 2013. A 10 percent increase in pension will also be allowed to all retired federal government employees.

The government has instead of increasing the rate of capital gains tax from 10 percent to 17.5 percent with effect from July 1, 2014 has given relief to capital market keeping CGT rates at 12.5 percent for securities held up to 12 months and 10 percent for securities held for a period which is between 12 to 24 months, whereas the securities held for more than 24 months shall be exempted from CGT.

In order to attract Foreign Direct Investment in manufacturing, construction and housing sectors, the government has reduced corporate tax rate to 20 percent if the investment is in a new industrial undertaking or a construction or housing project to be set up by 30th June 2017 and at least 50 percent of the total project cost in the form of equity through FDI. “This will also generate employment, which is one of our major challenges,” the minister claimed.

To promote agricultural sector, the government has done away with customs duty on import of plastic coverings and mulch film, anti-insect net and shade net. Sales tax on high irrigation equipment and equipment for green house farming has been lifted.

The government has reduced the corporate tax rate by one percent from 34 percent to 33 percent and withholding tax on marriages and functions to 5 percent from 10 percent to provide the solace to middle class.

The minister also announced the relief for the disabled persons by reducing tax liability of such persons having income up to Rs1 million by 50 percent saying that the disabled persons need empathy and special consideration.

The government has reduced taxes on telecommunication sector on the argument that telecommunication has become a necessity for all segments of society. Telecom services are highly taxed as both FED and GST on services continue to be imposed on them. In order to simplify the tax regime, the government decides to withdraw FED from those provinces which have imposed GST on telecom services. In areas where FED shall continue to be collected, the rate has been reduced from 19.5 percent to 18.5 percent. The government has also reduced the rate of Withholding Income Tax on telephone services from 15 percent to 14 percent.

The government has, the minister said, also done way with the Income Support Levy saying Income Support Levy Act was promulgated through the Finance Act, 2013. The aim was to mobilise additional resources for the economically distressed persons. However, the public at large did not accept this measure as it was considered harsh and was perceived as double taxation. So the government has decided to repeal the Income Support Levy Act, 2013.

About development and promotion of ICT sector the minister said government is fully cognizant of the importance of information and communication technology and its potential role in trade, foreign direct investment, women empowerment, employment, education, national competitiveness and ultimately the economic growth. “We are making adequate provisions, the minister, announced to establish Universal e-Telecentres across the country to general local employment.

In the first phase, 500 Telecentres will be established in the four provinces and Islamabad. “An investment of approximately Rs12 billion is to be made on this program over the next three years.”

The minister also announced the Prime Minister’s ICT Scholarship Program for students belonging to rural and semi urban areas. “This year, Rs125 million have been allocated out of National ICT R&D Fund to provide 500 scholarships in a transparent manner.”

A sizeable allocation of Rs20 billion has been made for 188 projects of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which will support development plans of different universities all over the country. It may be noted that on the current side also a hefty allocation of Rs43 billion is made for HEC. Thus a combined outlay of Rs63 billion will be made for higher education. The combined allocation represents about 10 percent increase, which is sizeable considering the tight fiscal conditions prevailing in the country.

In the health sector, the minister said the federal government has therefore allocated Rs26.8 billion. Our major focus will be polio eradication. An emergency plan has been made for this purpose and the federal government will work closely with the provincial jurisdictions to eradicate polio from Pakistan. Additionally the budget will also fund the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), National Maternal Neonatal and Child Health Program, National Program for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare and several national programs for prevention and control of important diseases such as blindness, TB, Hepatitis and AVN Influenza.

To increase exports of the country, the minister announced major initiatives that also include setting up of EXIM Bank of Pakistan that will enhance export credit and reduce cost of borrowing for exporting sectors on long term basis and help reduce their risks through export credit guarantees and insurance facilities.

The bank will provide liquidity to exporters. Its authorised capital will be Rs100 billion while the initial paid-up capital will be Rs10 billion. Legal framework for the establishment of the bank will be developed through an act of Parliament.

Under Exports Refinance Facility (ERF), he said, the government, through the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), has arranged to reduce its mark-up rate on exports finance from 9.4 percent to 7.5 percent, which will bring it in line with such rate prevailing in the countries competing with Pakistan which will reduce the financial cost of exporters by 2 percent.

He also said that through the SBP has arranged Long Term Finance Facility to reduce its mark-up rate on long term financing facility for 3-10 years duration from around 11.4 percent to 9 percent from July 1, 2014 which will reduce financial cost of exporters by 2.4 percent.

About the Export Development Fund (EDF) he said it was established through the contributions of the exporters for the promotion of exports. However, over the years projects undertaken with fund’s resources were not entirely helpful to exports. The EDF Board has been reconstituted and its organisation is overhauled with a view to making it more responsive and effective for the benefit of exporters.

He also announced the establishment of Pakistan Land Port Authority to transform land ports into efficient facilitators of trade while being responsive to risks such as security issues, smuggling and human trafficking. This measure will help Pakistan to increase its exports through the overland route where numerous opportunities are offered by regional countries and connectivity to northern and western corridors.

Talking of textiles sector which is the mainstay of country’s exports, the minister said, as it accounts for more than half of country’s exports. Its performance has been affected due to poor crops, delays in introduction of quality seeds and regulatory approvals for introduction of BT cotton, widespread energy shortages, numerous local taxes and levies, high cost of finance and restricted trade regimes adopted by importing countries.

“A meaningful export promotion policy will not be possible unless we provide the much-needed support for the development of this sector.” Mr Dar said that drawback for local taxes and levies to be given to exporters of textile products on FOB values of their enhanced exports if increased beyond 10 percent (over last year’s exports) at the following rates: The duty draw back to be given to porters on garments by 4 percent, made-ups 2 percent and processed fabric 1 percent.

“Mark up rate for Export Refinance Scheme of State Bank of Pakistan is being reduced from 9.4 percent to 7.5 percent from 1st of July 2014.”

“The Expeditious Refund System is being improved and a fast track channel for manufacturers-cum-exporters is being created.” The minister said he has directed FBR to dispose of all their pending Sales Tax refund claims before September 30, 2014. In future, all admissible refund claims of exporters shall be disposed of within 3 months, if not earlier.

Textile industry units in the value added sector would be provided Long Term Financing Facility (LTFF) for upgradation of technology from State Bank of Pakistan at the rate of 9 percent for 3-10 years duration. The minister said that Textile sector enjoyed duty free import of machinery under textile policy 2009-14. This facility will end on 30th June 2014 (SRO-809). It is proposed that in view of the need to take full advantage of GSP plus facility, this concession would be allowed for another two years.

A new vocation training program at the cost of Rs4.4 billion will be launched to train 120,000 men and women, over the five-year period, for skills required in the textile sector, especially in the value added sector such as garments and made ups. Monthly stipend of Rs8,000 per month will be given during three month training.

The minister announced to introduce Credit Guarantee Scheme in order to encourage banks for financing to unbanked small farmers.

The government, through the State Bank of Pakistan, will provide guarantee to commercial, specialised and micro-finance banks for up to 50 percent loss sharing. The scheme will cover farmers having up to 5 acres irrigated and 10 acres non-irrigated land holdings. It will benefit 300,000 farmer households/families with a loan size up to Rs100,000. Total disbursement under this scheme will be Rs30 billion.

He said that another initiative of Reimbursement of Crop Loan Insurance Scheme (CLIS) Premium has also been introduced to cover the risk to various crops for farmers with landholdings of 12.5 acres.

From this budget, the scope of CLIS premium reimbursement is being enhanced up to 25 acres. All farmers obtaining loans for production of 5 major crops are eligible to benefit from this scheme and 700,000 farmer households or families will benefit from this scheme. Total budget cost of the scheme is Rs2.5 billion.

He also announced the reduction in Sales Taxes on tractors saying the previous government levied sales tax on tractors which from January 1, 2014 stands enhanced to 16 percent. This has adversely affected local buying of tractors. To encourage use of tractors by the growers it is proposed that the sales tax will continue to be charged at the reduced rate of 10 percent.

The minister said that the government has decided to increase the credit lines to agriculture up to Rs500 billion in 2014-15 from Rs380 billion which will help increase the growth in agriculture sector.

The minister also said that government is going to give incentives for Processing Industries of Special Areas in Makran Division, Gilgit-Baltistan, Swat District and Fata regions. The agriculture produce suffers great losses for lack of processing and transport facilities. To encourage establishment of processing units at such places, the government is introducing a policy to support processing projects in Makran, Gilgit-Baltistan, Swat Valley and Fata.

These units will enjoy duty and tax-free import of machinery not locally manufactured and will also have access to SBP LTF facility and 5 years tax holiday. Additionally, a concessionary long-term financing facility shall be provided to them through State Bank of Pakistan.

He said that the federal government also decided to provide 50 percent airfreight subsidy for horticulture produce from Gilgit-Baltistan.

The government, the minister said, has specially designed a program to provide housing credit to low cost housing units to enable the poor to have their own houses. Banks will provide loans of up to Rs1 million and financial institutions, under this scheme while the government will guarantee 40 percent of the portfolio amount. The scheme will cover all areas of Pakistan and 25,000 loans worth Rs20 billion will be provided through this innovative method of supporting low and middle-income families.

A Mortgage Refinance Company, Mr Dar said, is being established with a broad shareholding of the government of Pakistan, commercial bank, development finance institutions, multilaterals and others for this purpose, to generate long-term liquidity for housing finance.

Total paid up capital of the company would be Rs6 billion. The company will provide refinance facilities through purchases of loans from the financial institutions engaged in loan origination and packaging them for sale to long-term investors. The government will invest Rs1.2 billion in the equity of the company.

In addition, he said, the amount of Rs6 billion has been kept in the budget for PM’s low income housing scheme.

Advance Tax on First and Business Class Airline Tickets, the minister said it is proposed that airlines may collect advance tax @ 3 percent on the sale of first class and club or executive class air tickets if the passenger is a compliant taxpayer (i.e. those who filed their income tax returns for the preceding tax year), and 6 percent tax if the passenger is a non-compliant person. The passengers travelling through the economy class shall be exempted from this tax to ensure that working classes and students travelling to foreign destinations are not burdened by this measure.

“The government has imposed advance tax on purchase of immovable property,” the minister said adding that real estate sector is attracting a major chunk of investment in an attempt to make quick profits largely through speculative buying and selling. The investment in this sector, unless it leads to construction, is unproductive and needs to be channelised to more productive sectors. To document and bring into tax net the real estate transactions , Mr Dar said, an adjustable advance tax be collected on purchase of immovable property.

“The proposed rate of tax is 1 percent for complaint taxpayers and 2 percent for non-compliant persons.” However, the minister said, properties with value less than Rs.2 million and schemes introduced by the government for expatriate Pakistanis will be excluded from this provision.

Similarly, the rate of adjustable capital gains tax on sale of immovable property is proposed to be enhanced from 0.5 percent to 1 percent for the non-compliant persons.

The government has imposed advance tax of 7.5 percent on the monthly bill of Rs100, 000 per month and higher advance tax on interest income and dividends, the minister said saying that for the persons who are non-compliant, it is proposed that 5 percent additional adjustable advance tax be deducted from them on payment of dividend and interest.

However, they can claim adjustment of the additional tax paid if they file return. The additional tax on interest shall not be deducted in case of people earning income on interest up to Rs500,000 in order to avoid hardship to low and middle-income earners.

The government also imposed higher advance tax on cash withdrawal by non-filers and the non-compliant will have to pay additional tax on cash withdrawals at 0.2 percent, additional tax on booking with manufacturers or registration of vehicles.

The non-filers will have to pay higher advance tax on car registration. They will have to pay a higher rate of tax at the time of registration and payment of token tax on motorcars and SUVs.

Removal of Inequities: There are certain distortions and inequities in the tax system. The tax structure favours choice of one entity over another. In this regard, distortions and inequities in the mutual fund industry and other corporate entities are proposed to be removed.

An alternate corporate tax @ 17 percent has been imposed on accounting income. The companies will be taxed at ACT or corporate tax whichever is higher. Facility of carrying forward ACT up to 10 years and exclusion of exempt income has also been proposed.

About tax rates for services, the minister said that at present rate for deduction of tax on services are 6 percent and 7 percent for corporate and non-corporate taxpayers respectively. Considering that persons providing or rendering services usually enjoy high profit margins due to low costs, the existing rates are considered lower. Hence, to rationalise, it is proposed to enhance tax rate on services to 8 percent in corporate cases and 10 percent in other cases.

The government has also decided to apply tax on foreign institutional investors, the minister said that currently, the foreign institutional investors neither file returns nor their tax is collected on capital gains. The minister said that this measure will broaden the tax net. The minister said that NTN requirement is now mandatory and compulsion condition for seeking commercial/industrial electricity and gas connections.

The minister also said that those retailers who operate as part of national and international chain stores; or operate in air-conditioned shopping plazas; or have machines for credit or debit cards; or have monthly electricity bills in excess of Rs50,000 will be required to pay sales tax in the normal regime and to keep electronic cash register of approved-specifications in order to record their transactions. And the retailers having electricity bills of less than Rs20,000 in a month shall be charged only 5 percent of the bill as sales tax on retail sales, while those with higher bills shall be charged 7.5 percent as sales tax on retail sales.

Mentioning about sales tax on domestic sales of export industries, the minister said that the government desires to encourage exports.

But at the same time, the facility meant for exporters should not extend to domestic sales, otherwise it will create distortions in the market. SRO 1125(I)/2011 was issued in order to encourage the five major export-oriented sectors – textiles, leather, carpets, surgical and sports goods.

However, under this SRO, even imported finished goods were enjoying concessionary rates of sales tax. Because of this notification, there was a great disparity between the concessionary rates of sales tax on imported finished goods of these five sectors sold in the local market against the standard rate. This was leading to distortion, evasion and malpractices.

About rationalisation of sales tax on steel Sector, he mentioned that the steel sector had been paying fixed sales tax at the rate of Rs7 per unit of electricity up to February 2013. But this rate was reduced to Rs4 per unit of electricity without any rationale, which is much below the normal rates. He said, “I am pleased to announce that the steel sector has expressed its resolve to come forward and contribute to the national cause, and all stakeholders have agreed to revive the rate from Rs4 to Rs7 per unit of electricity.” The government has also accepted their demand to collect withholding tax of their purchases through their electricity bills @ Rs.1 per unit of electricity.

The government has increased taxes on tobacco as Pakistan is a signatory to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which demands increase in prices and taxes of tobacco to discourage consumption.

June 4, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Rebels kill 20 in tunnel bombing

Syrian rebels blew up a tunnel filled with explosives in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, killing at least 20 pro-government fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said the blast took place near the Zahrawi market not far from the citadel in Old Aleppo. A powerful rebel alliance called the Islamic Front claimed responsibility and tweeted a video of the explosion.

Now in its fourth year, Syria’s conflict has killed 160,000 people and caused a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations says 9.3 million people need urgent aid inside Syria.

June 1, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More

zardari-608 ISLAMABAD – Asif Ali Zardari, former president and co-chairman Pakistan Peoples Party, on Saturday deploring the alleged victimisation of PPP’s stalwarts called upon the incumbent government to review its policies and stop witch-hunt of political opponents. Expressing shock over alleged political victimisation, Zardari said that he was shocked that while the PPP was seeking to protect the democratic system through political reconciliation the government was chasing opponents and, thereby, undermining the unity of political forces. The PPP co-chairman, in a statement, deplored the alleged victimisation of former Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf and ex-federal minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim behind the façade of accountability as ‘witch-hunt that bodes ill for the politics of tolerance, accommodation and reconciliation’. He said that decisions in national policies whether in the rental power plants or subsidies and concessions in importing commodities were taken collectively and transparently by the cabinet in the light of objective realities and singling out the prime minister is patently wrong and smacks of political victimisation. It is strange that in making references only the public representatives have been accused of wrongdoing and not a single sponsor of the power projects has been indicted, he said and added that it only confirmed the apprehensions of political victimisation. Regurgitating in the media vague and unsubstantiated charges of so-called misuse of power and misleading the cabinet without proving financial impropriety may succeed in temporarily tarnishing black the opponents but is neither accountability nor good governance, the former president said. “This is a dangerous proclivity that will have far-reaching consequences and must be eschewed.” There is a poignant similarity between the hounding of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in late 90′s for the decisions jointly taken by the cabinet at the time and the chasing of Yousuf Raza Gillani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Makhdoom Amin Fahim now for decisions taken by the cabinet, he said. Agencies add: Former president and PPP’s Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari Saturday said his party would resist attempts to weaken democracy. In a telephonic address to party workers in Nowshehra on Saturday, Zardari said PPP had always fought dictators. “Despite non-transparent elections, we accepted the results for the continuation of democratic system,” he stated. “We don’t believe in politics of drawing rooms,” he added. Zardari asked the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to support his party for restoration of peace in the province. He said Taliban wouldn’t be allowed to rule the country, adding that every person will have to play his role for development of the country.

June 1, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Narendra Modi back in Delhi, discussions on Cabinet formation resume

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May 23, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More