Government denies politicking on no-fly list

Special Assistant to Prime Minister Iftikhar Durrani says the PPP leaders, Bilawal Bhutto and Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah, will remain on the no-fly list till the government received a written order of the Supreme Court to remove their names from Exit Control List. ( File Photo/ Press Information Department)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Government denies politicking on no-fly list

  • Says senior People's Party leaders would remain on list until written orders from top court
  • Opposition politicians say government making a mockery of no-fly laws

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Saturday dismissed allegations by opposition parties that it was "playing politics" by keeping the names of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) chairman and the Sindh Chief Minister on a no-fly list despite a Supreme Court order that they be removed. 
“The government is following a laid down procedure on the Exit Control List (ECL) issue and there is no question of using it as a tool to malign the opposition or anybody else,” Iftikhar Durrani, special assistant to the prime minister on media, told Arab News.

The government added 172 individuals -- including PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, and several other bankers and businessmen -- to the ECL after they were named in a Joint Investigation Team's report on money-laundering allegations last month. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered that Bilawal and Shah’s names be struck both from the ECL and the joint investigation team's report. 
Durrani, however, said the travel ban would continue till the government “receives a written order from the court in this regard.”

“Opposition parties are trying to make this an issue for their political benefit,” he said, “but the fact is that this is a legal issue and will be handled accordingly.”

Durrani added that the government had constituted a special committee to review names of politicians placed on the no-fly list and “anybody whose name is on the ECL can appear before it to justify as to why his/her name should be removed from the list.”
Last month, a joint investigation team set up on court orders submitted a report claiming a close nexus between Zardari and the owners of two major business conglomerates, Omni groups and Bahria Town, who had used at least 29 fake bank accounts to launder Rs42 billion.
The JIT filed the report after investigating 11,500 bank accounts of 924 individuals and companies associated with the fake accounts, the document said.
The Supreme Court has referred the case to the National Accountability Bureau with instructions to complete its investigation within two weeks.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Naveed Chaudhry called the findings of the JIT “a pack of lies,” and said his party would present its defence at all relevant forums, including the apex court and the National Accountability Bureau.
“They are playing politics with us," Chaudhry told Arab News, adding that the government has just “exposed" itself by not removing the names of the PPP's top leadership from the ECL.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan said the government was making a "mockery" of the ECL law by placing the chief executive of the country’s second biggest province on the no-fly list.
“The government has failed to provide relief to the common man, so it is trying to hide behind petty issues like the ECL,” he said.
The Jamat-e-Islami, another opposition party in National Assembly and Senate, urged the government to review its decision on the ECL issue. 

“The government should try to take along opposition parties to resolve the issues of masses instead of antagonising them by placing names of their senior leadership on the ECL,” Liaqat Baloch, the party's secretary general, said.


Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

Updated 23 January 2019
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Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

  • Tax on loans for agriculture, SMEs reduced from 39 percent to 20 percent
  • Economists urge the government to ensure strict implementation of all measures

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Asad Umar on Wednesday presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year in the National Assembly of Pakistan, claiming it would boost investment, manufacturing and exports, and facilitate agricultural financing to promote economic activities in the country.

As opposition lawmakers chanted slogans against the government, the minister said he was presenting an “economic reforms package” to address the needs of the people.

“We are committed to helping deprived segment of the society and it is our constitutional responsibility to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.

The minister also announced that he would present the “Medium Term Economic Framework” in Parliament next week to boost investment, manufacturing and agricultural produce in the country.

Umar said his government had identified four variables to fix Pakistan’s ailing economy. These included: balancing government’s revenues and expenses; increasing exports that recently plummeted from 14 percent of the GDP to 7 percent; encouraging foreign direct investment; and boosting national savings from 10.4 percent which, he added, were the lowest in the world.

To achieve all these targets, he announced to slash tax on small and medium enterprises and agricultural loans from 39 percent to 20 percent, abolish withholding tax on banking transactions for tax filers, and remove import duty on newsprint.

He said that duty on diesel engines for agricultural purposes was also decreased to five percent. Other than that, abolition of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess on fertilizers would help reduce prices of urea for 200 rupees per bag.

After approval of the Finance Supplementary (second amendment) Bill 2019, non-tax filers will be able to purchase cars up to 1300cc, though the tax will be increased for them.

Tax would also be increased on imported vehicles above 1800cc, he said, adding that tax for low priced imported mobile phones would be decreased but remain the same for expensive imported phones.

To promote low-income housing, the minister announced a revolving fund of five billion rupees for interest free loans, while tax on wedding halls up to 500 square feet would be decreased from 20,000 rupees to 5,000 rupees.

The government has also announced a five-year tax exemption on manufacturing of all products related to renewable energy, including solar panels and wind turbines.

The finance minister announced to abolish super tax for non-banking companies and on bids for sports franchises until profitability, while withholding tax on trading in the stock exchange, he said, had also been abolished.

To encourage exports, the minister said that a scheme of promissory notes was being introduced for businessmen and exporters that would help them get concessionary loans from commercial banks.

Criticizing the opposition earlier, the minister accused them of leaving the country indebted with 2,500 billion rupees to 3,000 billion rupees in loans that were not shown in the books.

However, members of the opposition parties were not impressed by the new finance bill.

“There is nothing in this budget that will generate economic activity in the country,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Mohammad Zubair, told Arab News. “The government has announced tax reductions in different fields, but it is yet to be seen how this will affect revenue collection.”

Pakistan Peoples Party’s former finance minister, Saleem Mandviwala, said the budget was just a “plethora of numbers” and there was nothing in it for the common man.

“The government just wanted to show its performance by bringing the mini-budget. But it has badly failed to address the genuine issues of people,” he said while talking to Arab News.

Senior economist, Dr. Athar Ahmad, termed the budget “a step in the right direction,” saying that all these measures were needed to fix the economy.

However, he pointed out that the finance minister had failed to introduce any incentives for booming IT industry and measures to increase tax revenue. “The actual test of the government now is to ensure strict implementation of all the announced measures to achieve the targets,” said Dr. Ahmad.