Coronavirus delays CPEC projects for about eight weeks — official

In this file photo, Pakistani Naval personnel stand guard beside a ship carrying containers during the opening of a trade project in Gwadar port, some 700 kms west of Karachi on Nov. 13, 2016. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Coronavirus delays CPEC projects for about eight weeks — official

  • Says thousands of Chinese workers have returned to Pakistan to resume work
  • Chinese workers dealing with corridor projects in Pakistan are quarantined at their project sites for fourteen days

ISLAMABAD: The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a delay of at least eight weeks in the implementation of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, a senior government functionary said on Friday, as he hoped that the problem would be fixed through effective mobilization of resources.
Thousands of Chinese workers have returned to Pakistan through special flights to resume work on different infrastructure projects after spending the Chinese new year holidays in their hometowns.
“We are estimating a maximum eight weeks of delay in different development projects due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Dr. Liaqat Ali Shah, CPEC’s Project Director, told Arab News on Friday.
The Chinese workers, who have been dealing with different CPEC projects, were stuck in different cities of their country when Beijing suspended the international flight operation in January due to the spread of the virus.
China has already developed a “double quarantine policy” for all its engineers and other workers in Pakistan.
“The Chinese travelling to Pakistan spend fourteen days in quarantine in China, and then they are also placed in quarantine for another fourteen days in Pakistan,” Shah said, adding that “effective measures” were in place to stem the spread of the virus in Pakistan's cities.
The project director said that the Chinese companies would place their workforce in quarantine at their respective project sites. “We don’t allow them to mix with the local population,” he said.
About the number of Chinese returning to Pakistan since February, he said that they were “in the thousands,” though he did not have the exact statistics.
Pakistan and China signed the $46 billion CPEC agreement in 2015 which later expanded to at least $62 billion. The infrastructure development projects include roads, railways, seaport, pipelines, industrial units and airports.
China plans to link its landlocked western region of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea through the corridor project.
Shah said that Pakistan was mobilizing all the available resources to cover the time gap of eight weeks in different projects. “The work on all projects, including the transmission lines, roads and hospitals, is now in full swing,” he said.
The government has also constituted joint working groups and task forces to expand the scope of development projects by negotiating new schemes with the Chinese government.
In the next phase, Pakistan is planning to include development of agriculture, science and technology and petroleum sectors to boost its fragile economy and create job opportunities for both skilled and unskilled labor.
“At the moment, different studies are underway to include new projects related to agriculture and oil refineries in CPEC,” Shah said while dispelling the impression of any undue slowdown in the development schemes.


Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

Updated 06 June 2020

Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

  • Business community demands reduction in rates and number of existing taxes for the revival of sluggish economy
  • Economists believe revenue collection and locust control will pose major challenges to the government

KARACHI: As Pakistan focuses on stimulating growth and creating jobs in the upcoming federal budget, the country’s business community called for slashing taxes and introducing relief measures to bring the economy out of its sluggish mode while economists predicted that revenue collection would continue to constitute a major challenge for the government.
Pakistan is expected to present its income and expenditure plan for the next fiscal year (FY2020-21) in the coming week, with a focus to spur the economic growth without imposing new taxes.
“The focus of the upcoming budget is to stimulate growth and create jobs. The focus of the [$8 billion] stimulus package is toward providing support to business, in particular [small and medium enterprises] through payroll loans at subsidized rates, deferral of principal and interest payments for one year and quick disbursement of all as refunds to business,” Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, told Arab News last week in an exclusive interview.
He also categorically denied that there would be new taxes in the upcoming budget.
Pakistan’s business community expects that the government will come up with a relief package for the revival of the country’s economy to avoid its further weakening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have proposed that the government should give relief to industries across the board like the one given to the construction industry because it is vital for the revival of the economy,” Agha Shahab Ahmed Khan, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News. “The reforms and recovery will automatically follow.”
Industrialists say the government must focus on the means of creating wealth by adopting appropriate measures and offering suitable incentives such as the ones witnessed in other countries. “If there is no wealth creation, there will be no wealth distribution. This may also lead to social disruption in the country,” the KCCI president said, adding: “We have suggested that sales tax should be brought down to a single digit from 17 percent to spur business activities.”
Industrialists also hope that apart from revising the tax rates, the number of taxes will also be reduced by the government. “We expect that the number of taxes will reduce as part of the ease of doing business initiative under the current circumstances. In Punjab, the government has imposed about 130 different taxes,” Almas Hyder, an industrialist and former president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Arab News.
“The government must expedite the refund process,” she continued, adding: “I say this because this has impacted the cash flow of companies.”
Muhammad Ahmed, President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), concurred with Hyder, saying: “There is no doubt that refunds are being paid, but income tax refunds have not been issued. We should be given permission to adjust that money with the government in the shape of customs duties or sales tax.”
The ICCI president called for measures to make the upcoming budget business-friendly in the prevailing environment.
“The budget should be business-friendly since that will help us make the economy flourish. If new businesses cannot be set up, at least the existing ones that have suffered setbacks should be allowed to survive and sustain in these difficult times,” he added.
As business community demands relief in the upcoming budget, the country’s economists predict that the government is likely to face major revenue constraints due to a decline in the collection rate within the current economic framework. “If you have no income, you will not be able to make expenditures,” Dr. Abdul Qayyum Suleri, member of the government’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News.
“The second major challenge the government is facing is the locust attack which is going to cost the country about Rs 1 trillion in the worst case scenario. If the damage is contained, the loss will be about Rs 250 billion,” he added.
However, Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, who was part of the budget-making process last year since he worked as an adviser with the finance ministry, suggested that the next budget could be crafted with a different approach, keeping in mind resource generation through tax compliance, deficit reduction by curtailing expenditures, and deficit financing by shifting to non-debt creating instruments.
“Shifting the financing of budget to non-debt creating instruments is the only way to flatten the curve on debt build-up. Divestment, past recoveries, collecting dividends from state-owned companies, arrears of taxes and energy, all can contribute in financing the deficit. This can restore the public’s flagging faith in the integrity of the policymakers to break the debt cycle,” he added.
Dr. Suleri said that apart from debt servicing, defense and administrative costs and development expenditure’s additional resources would be required to fund the health sector and locust control operations.
“Pakistan will need about $15 billion of additional borrowing amid remittance, foreign investment and export decline,” he noted while observing: “Two sectors – energy and loss making public sector enterprises – will be under pressure since the International Monetary Fund may object to budget allocations. Increase in salaries and pensions may fall into this category.”
Economists expect that few ongoing development projects will be financed while major share of funds is likely to be diverted to the health sector in the current situation.