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Pakistan fails to exploit agri resources; exporters

Though Pakistan is rich in agriculture and livestock, which are pivotal pillars of strong economic growth for any nation, it certainly could not exploit the abundance of these resources, said exporters of fresh fruits, vegetables and halal meat.

During a meeting arranged by the Punjab Board of Investment and Trade (PBIT), Provincial Minister for Industries and Commerce Mian Aslam Iqbal highlighted that the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan was to increase exports by resolving the issues of exporters on a priority basis as the government would not allow any obstacles in the process.

“All the problems of exporters will be solved and the federal government will also be contacted to resolve issues related to the Centre,” Iqbal said while giving assurance to the exporters.

He added that the PBIT was not simply acting as a facilitator, it was also working with the approach of bringing all the stakeholders within and outside of the government together to boost national income by promoting a business-friendly environment.

Financial sector stays resilient

Under the lead of commercial banks, Pakistan’s entire financial sector continued to perform safe and sound during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic mainly due to their risk-free colossal lending to the cash-strapped government, as the sector’s assets grew by 14 percent to Rs33.92 trillion during 2020.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Wednesday released its Financial Stability Review 2020, according to which the financial system of Pakistan remained resilient during calendar year 2020 – a challenging year marked by the Covid-19 health crisis, which created exceptional uncertainty and contracted economic activity both domestically and internationally.

Digital banking, introduced during the pre-pandemic times, got traction and played a key role in keeping the financial system intact. However,“cybersecurity and money laundering/ terrorist financing remain the key operational risks to the financial sector,” the central bank said.

FBR sends 13mn notices in 3-year

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) served nearly 13 million tax notices to non-filers in three years but just one out of every ten of them cared to respond, showing weakened writ of the tax machinery and also its highhandedness.

From fiscal year 2018-19 to 2020-21, the FBR served 12.8 million tax notices to non-filers of the income tax returns, the FBR informed the Senate Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday.

However, only 1.31 million people filed their returns, showing compliance level of just 10.3 percent as against total notices served in three years. The FBR had raised Rs64.3 billion tax demand in these 12.8 million cases. However, it could recover just Rs2.6 billion, which was a mere 4 percent of the tax demand.

Headed by Senator Talha Mehmood of the JUI-F, the standing committee expressed serious reservations on sending nearly 13 million tax notices. It termed the FBR’s drive as an attempt to harass taxpayers and mint money from them.

Mehmood demanded that the tax officers who sent wrong notices should be put behind the bars.

Federal cabinet exempts state-owned entities from ‘Transparency Rules’

The federal cabinet amended on Wednesday the procurement rules to allow the government to award contracts to the state-owned enterprises without floating public tenders, which may compromise transparency in public sector deals.

The federal government notified the amended Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules on June 29 after approval from the cabinet, according to the notification.

According to the amended rule 42 (f), “A procuring agency may engage in direct contracting with state-owned entities such as professional, autonomous or semi-autonomous organizations or bodies of the federal or provincial governments for the procurement of such works and services, including consultancy services, which are time-sensitive and in the public interest”.

Only time-sensitive cases are allowed exemption, Managing Director of the PPRA Rizwan Malik said, adding that these cases would also be subjected to four major conditions to ensure efficiency and transparency.

Tax scenario in realty sector

The government’s compromises with real estate sector and tax authorities’ failure to take action against over 3,400 housing societies that remain outside the tax net are increasing the share of black money in the country and widening the tax gap.

The government is turning away from the realty sector at a time when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has handed Pakistan a new action plan that includes a condition on regulating the real estate sector business due to high chances of “money laundering”.

A study of just three of Karachi’s biggest property transaction hubs suggests that in just 300 property transactions Rs13 billion was paid over and above the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) determined property valuation rates, indicating the extent of black or untaxed money that is circulating in the market.

The difference between FBR’s valuation rates and the actual market rates is then bridged from income sources that remain unexplained.

Sensing this huge undocumented business, the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) had in December 2019 directed the FBR to take action in case of 11,723 housing societies that were collecting taxes from the clients but were not depositing in the national kitty.

Mobile number to be utilized as account number

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is set to simplify banking by allowing customers to turn their mobile numbers into bank account numbers to expand banking services to the unbanked and financially excluded people living in remote and rural areas.

“A customer can link his/her mobile number or…any other (unique) identification number with their bank account number under Raast (Pakistan’s indigenous instant payment system),” said SBP Payment System Department (PSD) Director Syed Sohail Javaad on Tuesday. “This feature will be rolled out in October 2021.”

Speaking at the UBL Digital Mobile Commerce 2021 on Tuesday, he said that in the near future, people could give their mobile numbers (instead of bank account numbers) to receive instant payments.

According to him, memorising a long IBAN or bank account number is one of the most difficult things in the banking ecosystem.

“This was in our mind when we started designing Raast in 2017,” he said. “Next year, we are aiming to introduce exciting…pull payment service under which a seller of goods can request banks to pay for the merchandise from buyers’ account with his permission,” he said.

Minister stresses focus on energy conservation

Effective implementation of energy conservation measures can assist in mitigating energy woes of the country, remarked Federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz.

Chairing a meeting of stakeholders from the electrical appliances segment on Wednesday, the minister highlighted that Pakistan was wasting valuable energy resources by using substandard products, which resulted in higher expenses for consumers.

“Such products have a deleterious impact on the country’s economy,” he said. “All appliances, especially fans, electric motors and geysers, must meet minimum requirements of energy efficiency.” During the dialogue, the progress on decisions taken in earlier meetings was also reviewed.

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