ISLAMABAD .: The incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in its sixth budget has made ambitious announcement with the general elections scheduled in the next three months.
The government has introduced relief measures such as a 10 per cent increase in salaries and pensions of the government employees. The lucrative announcements comprise a 100 per cent enrolment and graduation of children from schools despite the meager 2.2 per cent allocation for the educational sector.
Ambitious education programme with no timeline:
The newly appointed finance minister Miftah Ismail in his budget speech announced to introduce a new education programme to be called ‘100 100 100’. He said that the federal government under this programme will be committed to ensure that 100% Pakistani children will be enrolled and graduate from schools. However, the minister did not mention any deadline to achieve this goal.
“This is a solemn commitment of not just Prime Minister Shahid Khakaan Abbasi but the entire parliament to the children of Pakistan” he added.
The minister said that the federal government will help both financially and administratively each and every province to achieve this goal even though education is a devolved subject.
Stunting to end by 2020-another highly ambitious announcement
The government also announced launching special health and nutrition programme having another ambitious target to eradicate stunting in children by 2020.
“As a father of three children I am ashamed to tell you that 30% of my Pakistani children are stunted due to malnutrition and inadequate food…is a matter of shame for us. This is no more tolerable,” the minister remarked. He added that the government on the instructions of the prime minister will be allocating at least Rs10 billion for a programme to end child stunting.
“If this programme gets off the ground quickly and needs more money…we will provide through supplementary grants any amount that is needed to end child stunting…I commit on behalf of my prime minister and this Parliament to end child stunting in Pakistan by 2020” he said.
“Under this program, flour mills will mix critical micronutrients e.g. folic acid, vitamin B12, Zinc etc in the flour being produced for sale to general public…it is being proposed that 3% Customs Duty on import of the microfeeder equipment be withdrawn,” the minister added.
Health programme for all districts:
The minister said that the Federal Government cannot abdicate itself from responsibilities in this sector even after devolution of health function to provinces. “For the first time, poor people are being provided with quality health services through the Prime Minister’s Health Programme…30 lakh families in 41 districts have been provide free of cost services in public and private hospitals,” he added.
The scope of this programme is being expanded to all districts in the country. This programme would help in achieving targets of Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage.
With regards to the increasing cases of hepatitis, a National Hepatitis Strategic Framework has been developed together with the provinces. The prices of hepatitis drugs have been brought to the lowest level and its production in the country is encouraged.
Moreover, uninterrupted supply of vaccines has been ensured through the vaccination programme for mothers and children, and its storage and distribution systems are ISO certified. Production of vaccines in National Institute of Health is made as per international standards. The production which was earlier un-operational has been made operational.
An international standard dashboard has been established at the federal level keeping in view the necessity of authentic data in policymaking. The government has decided to undertake international standard survey after every 2 – 3 years for the collection of correct statistics.
Disease detection and prevention:
Mifta Ismail said that the technology provides simple and cheap solutions to many important problems. “Teachers can look into students’ eyes and detect many diseases if trained and provided with the appropriate mobile phone app…programme will start with the poorer districts of Pakistan and will be spread to all public schools in a few years,” he added.
“We will also require the private schools to provide such service at an appropriate time. I just request the more expensive schools to provide such service for now. The federal ministry of National Health Services will soon start providing guidelines on this subject,” said Ismail.
The government has exempted drugs from customs duties at import stage to provide relief for cancer treatment in Pakistan. However the sole exception was Tasigna on which customs duty is 5 per cent, which is proposed to be withdrawn.
The federal government has also proposed that the rate of customs duty at 11 per cent on corrective eyesight glasses be reduced to 3 per cent.
Import of machinery and equipment is allowed duty free to charitable institutions and hospitals under the provision of Pakistan Customs Tariff code 9917. However, there is no mechanism for their disposal. It is being proposed that if such goods are disposed of within a period of seven years of their import, the payment of duty and taxes leviable thereon shall be on payment of duty and taxes assessed at time of disposal. However, no taxes would be payable if disposal is after seven years.
Promotion of tourism
The government also announced a small package for tourism industry. The finance minister said that the quantum of domestic tourism has significantly increased in areas during the last few years, which previously were not frequented owing to the security environment, especially in Northern Areas.
“Hotel facilities at such locations are dismal or practically non-existent. While construction of hotels is time-consuming with greater capital cost…proposed that customs duty on import of such pre-fabricated structures complete rooms, not locally manufactured, be reduced from 20% to 11% for setting up of new hotels / motels in hill stations (including AJK and Gilgit Baltistan) and coastal areas of Baluchistan,” Ismail added.
Scheme for overseas Pakistanis
The government announced that all home remittance transactions sent through commercial banks, exchange companies and other financial institutions will be included in monthly lucky draws. The details of the scheme are being finalized and shall be announced shortly by State Bank of Pakistan.
Duty on electrical charging stations
The government announced to withdraw custom customs duty on charging stations for electric vehicles. The minister said that the step has been taken to promote usage of electric vehicles, which are environment friendly and enabling fiscal environment for its related infrastructure is necessitated.
The custom duty on import of electric cars is proposed to be reduced from 50 per cent to 25 per cent in addition to exemption from regulatory duty of 15 per cent. Import of CKD kits for assembly of domestically produced electric cars is proposed at 10%. Moreover, the LED is an efficient alternative to save energy. However, five per cent customs duty on specified LED parts and components is proposed to be withdrawn to further incentivize domestic manufacturing in Pakistan.
Film and Drama Industry
Ismail said that the government has announced a fiscal package in order to revive Pakistan’s film industry, which used to be the third largest in the world in 1960s. The package will provide an environment for film industry to flourish and to project Pakistani culture.
The main features of this fiscal incentive packages comprises reduction in custom duty to three per cent on the import of film and drama production equipment and sales tax to five per cent.
The government also announced establishment of a revolving fund for promotion of film and drama industry to provide financial support to deserving artists.
The minister also said that the reimbursement of 50 per cent in income tax to companies investing in film projects will be given for five years whereas 50 per cent tax refund to income derived by foreign film makers from films made in Pakistan. Miftah said a detailed film policy will be announced by Marriyum Aurangzeb in the next few days.