While admitting lack of tangible austerity measures in the fiscal year 2015-16 budget, AJK Minister for Finance, Planning and Development Latif Akbar said that the government was concentrating on improving income resources to make the region economically self-reliant.
He was speaking at a seminar held on the City Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (UAJK) under the aegis of the Capital Journalists Forum (CJF) — a journalists’ body working for promotion of media ethics and capacity-building — in collaboration with UAJK’s Kashmir Institute of Economics (KIE).
The finance minister said the AJK government was concentrating on improving income resources and “our long and short term policies will make the AJK economically self reliant.”
He regretted that people tended to evade taxes, even for civic services, let alone for any other major facility.
He said that the government was not supposed to run businesses but to facilitate and create employment opportunities in private sector.
Akbar, however, noted with pleasure that tourism was booming in the region and added that the visit of 1.2 million domestic tourists last year was an ample proof.
When asked if he has proposed even token austerity measures in the upcoming budget, the minister said that there was not a single head where he could slash allocations for being unnecessary, while dodging a related question on costly luxury vehicles that have been bought for government officials.
The minister said that the government was striving to improve quality of education in the region. He, however, skipped a suggestion regarding merger of schools where teachers outnumbered students.
Earlier, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) ex-president Chaudhry Muhammad Saeed pointed out areas where the government could generate income by improving governance and enforcing austerity measures.
He said that there was no proper mechanism for the measurement of the GDP and the state was not vigorously pursuing its case for its due share in federal taxes.
Saeed, who is also secretary finance of PML-N AJK chapter, called for dissolution of all public sector institutions which were non-productive and thus a burden on exchequer.
He said, “We have to come out from the rotten, redundant and useless education system and promote the culture of such subjects which are acceptable in the job market”.
The state, he said, should stop boasting of its higher literacy rate and instead focus on improving the quality of education in its educational institutions.
Similarly, he called for a proper system for recovery of utility bills. He also endorsed a suggestion by another speaker that the government should revamp its taxation system and claim sales tax on power generation in the territory.
UAJK Vice-Chancellor Dr Dilnawaz Gardezi and KIE Director Dr Syed Nisar Hussain Hamdani also spoke.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2015.