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Will Grocery Cheaper In Ramzan, Despite Cabinet gives Rs7.8 bln Ramazan package

Ramzan Pkg approved, Licenses for light weapons, OMCs report, 92% supplies from only 8 out of 66 OMCs, PR, PIA, PTV, USC performance discussed, State Owned Enterprises improving, Electoral transparency discussed, Book Foundation Head appointed, smart card for Afghan refugees, gas connections approval, Taxation framework needs track and trace system.

Cabinet met under chairmanship of PM Imran Khan - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved a record Rs7.8 billion package for the upcoming holy month of Ramazan.

Addressing the media after the cabinet meeting, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry provided details of the decisions taken at the meeting. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan had personally been monitoring the prices of daily-use items and all possible steps were being taken to provide relief to the common man.

About the cabinet approval of issuance of licences to a few, including Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, the minister said there had to be a policy on the matter; therefore, the cabinet had asked the Ministry of Interior to come up with a policy on issuance of licences, ensuring whosoever deserved, should get arms licences. And, he added, hopefully, in the next few weeks, a policy will be finalised in that context.

About a report on oil marketing companies (OMCs), he said that things would move forward, once the report was sent to the agencies concerned. The minister added that there were in all, 66 OMCs, whereas only eight of them supply 92 per cent of total oil and the rest take care of remaining just 8 per cent.

He said this was reflective of how all the state institutions become hollow, like Pakistan Railways, PIA [Pakistan International Airlines], PTV [Pakistan Television] and the USC [Utility Stores Corporation). The minister was hopeful that transparency would be brought about in the OMCs working.

The minister said the cabinet issued directives for the forensic audit of the loss making state owned entities and in the first phase, 10 such entities would pass through the process, which would be completed by June 30 this year. He explained that 51 out of 85 loss-making state owned enterprises had become profitable due to prudent policies of the government.

Fawad noted that Pakistan Railways, Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were among the enterprises which were running in losses.

He said the cabinet expressed its concerns over the increasing incidents of corona virus, but it was hopeful that Pakistan would also handle the third phase the way it had handled the first two phases.

Fawad said at the start of the meeting, the PM highlighted the issue of transparency in the electoral system.

The prime minister ordered for introduction of electronic voting machine system and he directed that every week the cabinet should be given update about the process of introduction of electronic voting machines.

He said that there were some political forces which would always dispute the election process, but the government wanted to ensure transparency for the satisfaction of the general public. He said the cabinet gave approval to the proposal of appointment of Raja Mazhar as Managing Director of National Book Foundation.

The cabinet also gave approval to end a ban on issuance of prohibited and non-prohibited bore licences of arms by approving the comprehensive licence policy. He said that the cabinet discussed the issue of improper use of petroleum companies CSR. He said that now rules have been changed and Minister for Petroleum had been authorised to monitor the entire process of CSR utilisation.

He said that the cabinet gave approval to the proposal of issuing smart cards to registered Afghan refugees and the decision was part of the prime minister’s policy of providing relief to the poor people. He added the life of Afghans living in Pakistan for the last several decades would be easier and their issues would be resolved through formal registration.

The cabinet was informed that this year 400,000 new gas connections had been given whereas the target was 600,000 by the end of the current fiscal year. The next year the target would 1200,000 new gas connections. He said that so far only 27 per cent residents had been provided piped gas facility whereas 63 per cent were still without this important facility. He said that reforms were being done in the gas sector and a new system would be introduced to bring these 63 per cent in this regime.

He said that the cabinet was also briefed on structural reforms and it was decided that in future the latest audit paragraphs would come up before the Public Accounts Committee to promote timely process of parliamentary supervision and accountability.

The minister said tax exemption was granted on auto-disable syringes to prevent spread of various diseases. Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday said the track and trace system was the only way out to stop massive tax evasion by the powerful sectors as otherwise, eventually public had to bear the brunt of indirect taxation.

Addressing the federal cabinet, he tasked Law Minister Senator Farogh Nasim to immediately get the stay vacated granted by the Sindh High Court against the track and trace system automation.

He noted that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had been trying for the last 15 years to bring a track and trace system against tax evasion in the country but every time such measures were sabotaged. The PM said the FBR had assured the federal government that the track system would be in place by June 1. However, now the SHC had issued a stay order against it. He insisted that the proposed system was key to stopping massive tax evasion by powerful sectors, such as sugar, cement industry, fertilizer and cigarette industry.

“Some 40 per cent cigarettes are sold informally in black market and those produce it don’t pay taxes, which results in loss of billions,” he added.

“I just want the cabinet members to know what type of tax evasion is being committed. Because the FBR does not have automation, the system is being resisted. Only on sugar industry, in the last five years, the FBR imposed Rs400-billion tax. In other words, had there been the track and trace system, the government would have collected that tax. All these figures surfaced after investigations,” he added.

About the cigarette industry, he said that 98 per cent tax was paid by only two companies, while no tax was being paid at all for 40 per cent cigarettes, being sold in the market. He said when the power sectors resort to tax evasion, indirect taxes had to be imposed which eventually impacted people, leading to price-hike in the country.

The law minister said tax evasion was not a personal but a national issue, which caused billions of rupees losses to the country. About the electoral process, the law minister said the premier had been seeking update on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voting right for overseas Pakistanis in every cabinet meeting. Whenever elections were held, voices were raised against them, questioning transparency and fairness of polling process. Therefore, he added that for transparency, EVMs were the only solution and he needed progress on that count and the cabinet be updated in every meeting.

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