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The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the federal budget, including the Finance Bill, incorporating some amendments of the government and recommendations of the Senate for fiscal year 2016-17. Federal Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar moved the Finance Bill in the Lower House and it was approved following a thorough discussion on it. The house approved the bill by rejecting all amendments moved by the opposition members.

All the proposed recommendations of the Senate and the National Assembly have been incorporated in the Finance Bill through amendments. The house approved a total of 112 supplementary demands for grants and appropriations worth Rs 261 f or the financial year 2015-16. While winding up debate on the Finance Bill, the Finance Minister said the government has introduced an "unhappy amendment" in the Finance Bill about input adjustments between the provinces and the federal government.

The government will withdraw the amendment about withholding tax regarding the provinces through an Ordinance if the matter of receivables and payables is settled amicably by June 30, 2016, he said. The minister, however, appreciated the role of the provincial tax collection authorities, saying the provinces have the capacity to collect taxes on agriculture and income.

Talking about the refunds from Federal Board of Revenue, the minister said he is trying to settle the issue of refunds once for all by August 31 through an out of the box solution. The minister said the ratio of direct taxes has increased from 38 percent to 42.4 percent. Talking about the CPEC, he said a country progresses through foreign direct investment rather than getting the foreign loans, he said, adding that a Free Trade Agreement was signed with China in 2007.

The minister said it is a shared prosperity of both China and Pakistan while work on the western route was also being carried out as agreed by all in the All-Parties Conference. About Swiss accounts, he informed the members that he has got a summary approved from the cabinet for a bilateral treaty with Swiss government to get information for the infamous Swiss accounts.

He said negotiations are under way with the Swiss authorities and the next meeting is scheduled to be held on June 25, 2016. The minister said if an agreement is reached between Pakistan and the Swiss government, then the latter will give Pakistan an amount of special tax of 10 percent on dividends. The minister said a parallel process of getting access to accounts of Pakistanis in foreign countries is also being followed with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and almost 100 countries have already signed the multilateral forum.

"The exchange of information among the member countries would be spontaneous and auto," he said, adding that Pakistan would get the membership of the OECD in the next couple of months, while the organisation may be operational in July 2017. He also clarified the government has imposed no tax on stationery.

The minister said that volume of re-appropriations and supplementary grants was Rs 1439 billion in 2012-13, but now they have reduced it to Rs 261 billion. He said the supplementary grants are part of the process as the government cannot predict future events like floods and some other untoward incidents. About salaries, perks and privileges of the parliamentarians, he informed the members that four amendments have been introduced in the Finance Bill and implementation on salaries, perks and privileges of the members would be done through a notification following a discussion with the prime minister.

He said all parliamentary parties have been unanimous in increase of salaries; therefore amendments have been introduced to avoid the need of promulgation of an Ordinance. The minister also announced that the government has decided to give three basic salaries as an honorarium to all staff of the National Assembly, state media and security officials of the parliament. Earlier, the house also approved Rs 1.5 billion for demands for grants of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016

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