National Assembly passes mini-budget to meet IMF targets

Ishaq Dar debt repayment

The National Assembly of Pakistan passed the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2023, aimed at amending certain laws relating to taxes and duties. The bill is intended to generate an additional Rs170 billion within the next four and a half months, to fulfill the last prior actions agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pakistan’s reserves have fallen to a critically low level of $2.9 billion, which experts believe is sufficient for only 16 to 17 days of imports. The completion of the ninth review of a $7 billion loan programme with the IMF would lead to a disbursement of $1.2 billion, as well as unlock inflows from friendly countries.

The Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, introduced the bill to the National Assembly on February 15, and the formal debate started on it after moving a motion by Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar on February 17. In his concluding speech during the NA session, Dar said the new taxes proposed in the bill would not affect the poor segments of society, as most of the new taxes are being imposed on luxury items that they don’t use.

The government has also proposed an increase of Rs40 billion in the budget of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to help the poor cope with rising inflation.

The Finance Bill aims to increase the general sales tax (GST) rate from 17 per cent to 18 per cent, with an increase to 25 per cent on luxury items. The bill proposes to raise the federal excise duty (FED) on cigarettes, and aerated and sugary drinks. GST on 33 categories of goods covering 860 tariff lines, including high-end mobile phones, imported food, decoration items, and other luxury goods, will increase from 17 per cent to 25 per cent, however, the raise will be notified through another notification.

The excise duty on cement has been raised from Rs1.5 to Rs2 per kilogram, a measure expected to generate an additional Rs6 billion. An excise tax of 10 per cent has been proposed on non-aerated drinks like juices, including mango and orange, to raise an additional tax of Rs4 billion.

The finance bill also proposed a 10 per cent withholding tax on functions and gatherings held in marriage halls, marquees, hotels, restaurants, commercial lawns, clubs, community places, or other places, expected to raise Rs1 billion to Rs2 billion from this tax. The excise duty on carbonated or aerated drinks has been raised to 20 per cent from 13 per cent to generate an additional Rs10 billion for the government.

The proposed increase in excise duty on business, first, and club-class air tickets will raise an additional Rs10 billion for the government, with a tax rate of 20 per cent (or Rs50,000, whichever is higher) proposed on the value of air tickets.

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