ISLAMABAD: The government collected Rs6.73 billion during July-October 2015-16 through withholding tax on banking transactions exceeding Rs50,000 per day, said Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday.
In a written reply to a question asked by Senator Kalsoom Parveen during the question hour of the Senate, Mr Dar dispelled the impression that the controversial levy led to a decline in banking transactions.
He presented to the house comparative data of 27 out of 30 commercial banks which shows the transactions instead increased by 0.72 per cent to Rs161.676bn during July-September 2015-16 from Rs160.526bn a year earlier.
No comparative data of previous years was, however, presented to show the usual trend of increase in the volume of transactions per year.
It is generally believed that the decision to impose the levy, which applies only on non-filers of income tax, had forced many to hold money in cash to avert a cut in their deposits at the time of withdrawal each time.
Answering another question, the minister said the present government obtained external loans worth $4.31bn in addition to around Rs2.8 trillion domestic debt during June 6, 2013 to end-October 2015.
He said the loans were obtained for financing projects of national importance, balance of payments, import of crude oil and budgetary support to meet fiscal deficit.
On an occasion during the question hour, the Senate chairman told the government not to make the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project controversial by running away from pointed questions asked by members and directed that the minister for planning, Ahsan Iqbal, should be personally present in the house on Dec 30.
He also asked the minister for parliamentary affairs to convey this message to the prime minister as well.
The chairman gave the ruling when Senator Farhatullah Babar speaking on his deferred question on CPEC deplored that the planning minister was again absent despite the fact that the questions had been deferred in the past as well.
Mr Babar had asked for reasons as to why the CPEC projects relating to the western and northern alignments were specifically mentioned as such in the PSDP 2015-16, but those relating to the eastern route were not mentioned.
He also asked how much money had been allocated and released for each of the western and eastern route projects until end-October 2015.
The amounts actually released for road projects would shed light on which route was being developed on a priority basis, he said.
He also questioned whether road projects listed under the western route in the PSDP were those approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) several years ago and not designed to carry the huge and heavy cargo envisaged to be transported through the corridor.
Talking to the media, he said the road projects in western route were old projects and their design did not meet the requirements of roads in the economic corridor. By contrast, the road projects in the eastern route have been designed as motorways, he said.
Mr Iqbal, in a written reply, said the projects relating to the eastern route had also been mentioned under the Communications Division’s portfolio in PSDP FY16. Most projects in the eastern route including M-4 motorway and M-9 Hyderabad-Karachi motorway were ongoing, he pointed out. Other projects in the route are part of Peshawar-Lahore-Karachi Motorway which was envisioned by the government in 1991 long before CPEC was conceptualised. The northern, eastern and western routes all include ongoing projects that have been approved by Ecnec years ago.
He said the design and construction of road sections in the western corridor will be according to the specifications adopted by the National Highway Authority on all its other projects and will be able to carry the cargo and heavy traffic as per the design specifications and standards.
This project is mentioned in PSDP 2015-16 under Communications Division with allocation of Rs10bn for western alignment and other CPEC projects, the reply said.
The written reply, however, could not satisfy the questioner and Mr Iqbal was directed to ensure his presence on Dec 30.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2015