ISLAMABAD - Amid boycott of the combined opposition, the National Assembly on Tuesday approved the Finance Bill for the financial year 2017-18 by incorporating recommendations of the Senate.
The budget, with total outlay of Rs 4.75 trillion for the next year, was presented by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The finance bill will be effective from July 1 after the signatures of President Mamnoon Hussian.
The joint opposition left the house in protest after the speech of Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah who demanded of the prime minister to take the parliament into confidence about his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
On May 26, the PML-N government introduced the annual budget in the parliament for general discussion, however, the combined opposition did not participate in the budget debate after their demand for live telecast of their speeches on PTV was turned down by the government. The joint opposition, during the budget discussion, also held a parallel assembly outside the Parliament, terming the budget anti-people.
The government had announced to enhance the salaries of civil servants by 10 percent after merging the ad-hoc relief of 2008 and 2010. Likewise, salaries of the army have been enhanced by 10 percent in addition to a special allowance of 10 percent, while pensions of the federal government employees and the army would be increased by 10 percent.
This year, the federal government has set budget deficit target at Rs 1.5 trillion (4.1 percent of the GDP). The government has set an ambitious growth rate of six percent for the upcoming fiscal year, which remained at 5.3 percent during 2016-17.
The major expenditures, in the next fiscal year, are estimated at Rs 1.36 trillion for interest payment, Rs 248 billion for pensions, Rs 920.2 billion for defence, Rs 430.2 billion on grants and transfers and Rs 138.8 billion for subsidies.
The government has fixed historic PSDP at Rs 1,001 billion ahead of the general elections to be held in 2018. The federal government would transfer Rs 2,384.2 billion to provinces under National Finance Commission Award. The tax collection target for Federal Board of Revenue has been set at Rs 4,013 billion.
Dar, while concluding the budget debate, announced some new measures. About the budgetary recommendations from senators, the minister said the government had accepted/incorporated 75 proposals out of total 276. As many as 147 recommendations related to development projects had been forwarded to the ministry of planning, development and reforms with favourable remarks, he said.
The finance minister also announced that all the notifications and SROs issued after 18th amendment would be ratified by the cabinet and the National Assembly.
Dar said that government had accepted the proposals of the lawmakers to enhance the ceiling of agriculture loan up to Rs 75,000 for small farmers. He clarified that small agriculture loan would be for six months and it would be Rs 150,000 for one year.
He said the government had abolished sales tax on diesel-run engines and duty on import of diesel engine parts had also been reduced from 20 to 3 percent, which would benefit small farmers. He announced many incentives to promote Islamic banking, including exemption of sales tax and tax concession.
The minister said customs duty on the import of magnet for DC fans had been withdrawn. Tax ratio on dividend on mutual funds was being reduced to 10 percent from 12.5 percent on up to Rs 2.5 million, while capital gains tax on investment in stock exchange would not be increased on investment prior to July 2016, he revealed.
He said the government had also reduced the general sales tax (GST) on feed gas from 17 to 10 percent. The government had exempted urea from further tax. The GST on fish feed had also been reduced to 10 percent from 17 percent.
Dar affirmed a special package was being prepared for the entertainment industry and revival of drama and film industry.
He said the government had achieved 10 years highest economic growth of 5.3 percent during the outgoing financial year and it would be enhanced to 6 and 7 percent in next couple of years. “The economic policies of the government would bring prosperity in the country and increase per capita income,” he said.
Dar averred the government was serious in new NFC Award, adding it had floated the idea in the NFC meeting to slash 7 percent from the divisible pool for national security and special areas, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata, but the provinces had not responded to the idea, which was the main hurdle to constituting the new NFC award, he clarified.
The finance minister made it clear that the net debt to GDP had come down to 59.3 percent from 60.23 percent in June 2013. Pakistan’s external debt was $41.9 billion by the end of March 2017 against $48.1 billion in 2013, he said.
He said the government has allocated Rs 90 billion in the budget for the rehabilitation of TDPs and reconstruction in tribal areas. The government had spent Rs 90 billion to Rs 100 billion on TDPs annually in last three years.
The government side, in absence of the opposition, succeeded in getting the federal budget passed without any interruption. Although the opposition parties had submitted over 1,800 cut motions in the National Assembly Secretariat, all these stood invalid in their absence.
The treasury lawmakers, in absence of the opposition members, seemed much relaxed and some of them remained busy in chit-chat completely ignoring the finance minister’s speech.
However, the treasury lawmakers were seen much attentive at the fag end of the passage of the bill as PTI MNA Hamid-ul-Haq entered the house. The opposition lawmaker was seemingly in a mood to point out the quorum as he requested the chair to give him the floor. Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab and others were seen requesting him not to point out the quorum as the house lacked required strength.