Punjab to focus on health, education, clean water

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SOURCEThe Express Tribune
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KARACHI / LAHORE: The social sector budget would be made with focus on health, education, clean drinking water and green Pakistan, in accordance with the priorities set by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), announced Punjab Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht.

Speaking at a pre-budget seminar organised by the Punjab Revenue Authority (PRA) on Thursday, Bakht said the PTI believed in keeping stakeholders on board and they were the backbone of any policy. He pointed out that the Punjab government was revisiting the health insurance scheme as out of two million insurance holders only 40,000 were benefiting while the government had paid the full premium. Furthermore, a number of companies were made but not a single drop of clean drinking water was produced, he lamented.

Also Read: Tweaking the Punjab budget to achieve SDGs

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He was of the view that without developing the trust of stakeholders, the government could not move forward as they were the backbone of tax policies.

“The government respects the valuable input of stakeholders in finalising the upcoming finance bill. It aims to reduce the tax burden of people and make Punjab a self-reliant province by mobilising revenue through economic growth,” he said.

The government also plans to move to a negative list of sales tax on services in order to simplify understanding and compliance with the law.

He added that the government wanted to facilitate the compliant taxpayers by simplifying taxpaying methods and introducing a business model where the public would not need to visit government offices. He expressed interest in taking effective measures to bring the undocumented sector of the economy under the tax net with the help of stakeholders.

The minister stressed the need for increasing reliance on provincial resources instead of the federal divisible pool, adding dependence on the divisible pool affected the planning and execution of different projects.

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Bakht insisted on collective budget policymaking and said the government would continue to hold such seminars with the stakeholders in future as well. Former finance minister Dr Hafeez Pasha criticised the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in Punjab for manipulating budget numbers and hoped that the PTI-led government would not follow the practice.

He pointed out that in the last year Rs406 billion was spent from the Annual Development Plan (ADP) against the fixed outlay of Rs635 billion. Additionally, he suggested that the PTI-led Punjab government should not exceed its ADP outlay beyond Rs350 billion.

Appreciating the PRA’s performance, Pasha said it doubled revenue collection in just four years while growth in the last financial year was 19%, which was more than the FBR’s revenue growth. This was despite the PRA missing the revenue collection target.

On the non-tax revenue side, he criticised the performance of the Punjab government, pointing out that it decreased to Rs62 billion from Rs71 billion in the past five years. He insisted on increasing the Abiana rates in Punjab to encourage water preservation. He was appreciative of the previous provincial government’s move to not present the budget.

Speaking on the occasion, PRA Chairman Javed Ahmed said the PRA had crossed Rs100 billion for the first time in the last financial year and collected revenues of almost Rs110 billion.

Now, the PRA has been working on broadening the tax base and taxable services are expected to be increased from 62 to 80 in the upcoming budget proposals.

He went on to say that the PRA would be increasing its tax base by following a progressive approach and it was hoped that by following that policy the number of registered taxpayers would exceed 100,000 by the year 2025.

Furthermore, the PRA has also been working on plans to introduce new projects in the near future. He said the purpose of the seminar was to bring all stakeholders on one platform in order to share their views before finalising the provincial budget.

During the seminar, some reservations and apprehensions were raised and the participants discussed paving ground for formulation of a consensus-oriented and progressive budget.

(This news/article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on October 5th, 2018)

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