Restrictions on purchase of property, vehicles reintroduced for tax non-filers

Finance Minister Asad Umar on Wednesday launched a staunch defence of the government's amended finance bill before it was presented and subsequently passed by the National Assembly.

The finance minister, during his speech, also announced that the restriction on non-filers on the purchase of cars and land is being reinstated. Overseas Pakistanis, buyers of motorcycles and rickshaws of up to 200cc engine capacity, and widows will be exempted; the latter, however, only on inherited properties.

He also said the government had introduced a fine for those who violate the amended law.

After PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal delivered his speech, the finance minister took centre stage to apprise the parliament on the challenges facing the country's economy, which he said the amended bill will address.

Umar, following criticism from PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal, said that it is unfair that the 40-day-old PTI government is being asked to "fix matters that were not fixed in the previous 40 years".

He reminded PML-N lawmakers of the problems they faced during their reign but could not deal with.

"The gas sector was fine during PPP's government but got destroyed during the PML-N era.

"The circular debt for just this past year was Rs403 billion, and overall the circular debt has soared to Rs1.2 trillion. [How can] they say that streams of milk and honey used to flow in their reign," the finance minister said.

The finance minister defended the PTI government's policies, claiming that they were geared towards serving the poor, which he said wasn't the case in previous eras.

"The PML-N never thought of the poor, which is why there was the condition of being a tax filer even for the purchase of a motorcycle," he said. "We have removed this condition even for 200cc rickshaws so that the poor can be facilitated.

"The farmers are also close to our heart. We are giving subsidies on urea and LNG-operated plants. For Rabi season, too, we are giving subsidies worth Rs6bn to Rs7bn."

Umar also said that action has begun against those "big personalities" who have still not bothered to become tax filers.

"169 such people have been issued notices," he said. "No one should think that they will escape unscathed. This state is not so weak that it cannot catch you. Those who have considerable funds in banks, their details will be obtained," he said.

"There is still time, come within the tax net," he warned.

The finance minister recalled the PML-N's promise to end load-shedding in the buildup to the 2013 elections.

"You had vowed to end load-shedding, what happened of it," Umar asked. "If Charsadda, Bannu, Swabi, Lyari, Noshki and Khuzdar are not a part of Pakistan, then your claim to having put an end to load-shedding is true.

"Nepra (the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority) has negated their claim to provide cheap electricity as well. Their own appointed regulator has recommended that the power tariff be increased by Rs3.89 [per unit]. All these projects whose [tariff] rates are [now] being hiked were inaugurated during their governments."

Furthermore, the finance minister rejected the opposition's suggestion of asking dam-fund donors about the source of their funds.

Following Umar's speech, voting in the NA on the amended finance bill began. After the opposition rejected to a count of votes cast verbally, the speaker asked for a physical count, which showed 158 people in assent and 120 against the passage of the bill.

The bill was passed clause by clause and the session was subsequently prorogued.

Furthermore, the finance minister said China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was a bilateral project between Islamabad and Beijing and both the countries will set its strategic direction.

Speaking in the Senate, Umar dispelled the impression that a third country is being made a strategic partner.

He said that during the Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan last month, it was agreed that other countries can be invited for investment in individual projects. He, however, said that no decision has been made to add more strategic partners to the CPEC.

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