The National Assembly on Thursday passed the supplementary finance bill with a majority vote, giving effect to new tax measures in an ambitious bid to achieve a tax target of Rs5.8 trillion as per the requirement of the International Monetary Fund.
The approval of the supplementary finance bill was necessary to ensure Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the IMF’s Executive Board which is scheduled to meet later this month to decide the disbursement of the $1-billion tranche.
Days after Federal Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin introduced two bills in the assembly to give effect to the Rs343 billion mini-budget and granted autonomy to the central bank, the NA approved the bills amid a ruckus created by the Opposition in an hours-long session.
It is pertinent to mention here that on Tuesday, the NA had formally begun a general debate on the mini-budget. In the amended bill, the government rolled back its plan to impose additional sales taxes on children’s formula milk, bread, and small cars. It also withdrew the proposal to impose taxes on laptops and computers.
The Opposition’s amendments to the bill were rejected and when the voting took place, 150 members voted in favour of the amendments, while 168 voted against them.
By this measure, the government has an edge with 18 parliamentarians to get the bill passed. The National Assembly comprises 342 lawmakers, of which the government has 182 MNAs, while the Opposition has 160 MNAs.
In the session, 14 of the government’s lawmakers were absent, while 10 from the Opposition’s side didn’t show up.
Addressing the finance minister, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the finance minister was continuously asking why is the Opposition protesting, “so let us tell him that if the government is going to ignore the voice of a common man, we are going to highlight the issues.”
Shedding light on the criticism regarding the supplementary bill being the “IMF bill”, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said that during the previous government’s tenure, 13 agreements were signed with the Fund.
“They [the Opposition] are saying that IMF has destroyed the economy of Pakistan, while they went to the IMF in their tenures as well,” he said.
Tarin further said that the PTI government is being accused of “mortgaging country’s sovereignty”; however, the government was forced to approach the IMF.
“We had no other option but to ask for IMF’s help,” he reiterated. Former prime minister and PML-N stalwart Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressed the House to say: “Kindly let it be known in Parliament why there was a need to present the mini-budget?”
“Why are you placing such a heavy additional burden of taxes on the people?” Abbasi proposed that “instead of announcing what will get dearer, why not tell us what will not”. He said fuel costs have risen, as have power costs.
Addressing the House, Tarin further said that the supplementary finance bill is a step towards the “process of documentation.”
Addressing the allegations of the Opposition that the mini-budget will bring a tsunami of inflation in the country, the finance minister said that out of Rs343 billion taxes worth Rs280 will be refunded “then what is the issue?”
“This is not a game of money,” he reiterated. The minister underlined that the government has decided to withdraw its proposal to impose additional sales taxes on children’s formula milk, bread and laptops, etc.