Pakistan budget targets tax rises to shore up finances

World Friday 03/June/2016 20:55 PM
By: Times News Service
Pakistan budget targets tax rises to shore up finances

Islamabad: Pakistan is targeting a near 16 per cent rise in tax revenues in the fiscal year ending June 2017, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday as he unveiled a budget aimed at shoring up the South Asian country's finances.
Dar said Pakistan would cut its fiscal deficit to 3.8 per cent of gross domestic product for the coming financial year, down from the 4.3 per cent envisaged for this year, and helped by a planned rise in tax collection to Rs3.95 trillion ($37.8 billion).
Pakistan's economy is growing at its quickest rate in eight years after a slide in oil prices and expansion in industry and services boosted demand. Investor confidence has slowly returned to a country that was battered by the global financial crisis.
"The dangers to the economy are now far behind us. Economic growth has hit an eight year high. This would have been even better if it had not been for a 28 per cent fall in the cotton crop," Dar told parliament.
Still, the economy remains structurally weak, hamstrung by poor infrastructure, struggling exports, the threat of militant violence and a very narrow tax base.
The GDP growth rate of 4.7 per cent in the year to June 2016 was less than the government's 5.5 per cent target, and a contraction in the agricultural sector this year meant many Pakistanis do not feel much better off.
Pakistan's economy needs to grow at more than 6-per cent per annum to absorb new entrants coming into the workforce, experts say.
Dar said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government's priority in the year ahead was to push Pakistan's persistently low tax-to-GDP ratio to above 10 per cent and raise taxation revenues. Pakistan's financial year runs from July to June.
Khurram Husain, a Karachi-based analyst, said the government was proposing to raise taxes on turnover and financial transactions, which could hurt economic activity. It had largely left income and consumption taxes alone, he said.
"I see it more as a fire-fighting budget. The government is having a very hard time transiting out of fire-fighting mode into producing a growth-inducing budget. And this budget speech appears to confirm that," Husain said.
Successive governments have promised to rein in tax evaders and boost revenues but face fierce resistance to change, including from the many politicians and businessmen believed to be among those dodging their taxes.
Fewer than one per cent of Pakistan's 190 million people pay income tax.
The low level of collection and the hefty cost of funding its military has left Pakistan with insufficient money to spend on modernising its schools and hospitals, to the dismay of donors who end up financing much of the social infrastructure.
Dar said total spending for the 2016/17 year was estimated at 5.08 trillion rupees, while the defence budget would rise 11 per cent year-on-year to 860 billion rupees. Some economists predict that Pakistan will miss its fiscal deficit targets over the coming years and start hiking spending after it exits an International Monetary Fund programme later this year and heads into a general election in 2018.