Another charter

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The government is clearly in a fix. With all the economic indicators on a downward trajectory, the budget for the next fiscal year has not much to boast about. The government is worried about the numbers required to get it passed from the parliament. The allied parties are looking for more portfolios as they offer support to government for the budget. Be it the MQM, PML-Q, GDA or BNP- Mengal.

There was a surprise for everyone in the Parliament when the former finance minister Asad Umar asked his party’s government on Thursday to reconsider increased tax on sugar and cooking oil in the federal budget. Not only that he criticised the new economic team’s approach in framing the budget and asked for an inquiry as to why the prices for certain items such as sugar were increased.

In times such as these when the most members within the PTI are not happy with the budget and the FBR is proving a big disappointment, the prime minister was compelled to appeal to the people to avail the amnesty scheme. So far the figures from the official sources are underwhelming and with just nine days remaining there is little hope that the number of people approaching the tax authorities will go any higher.

Although the government spokespersons are calling the scheme as a one-off opportunity for people to declare their assets and not a revenue generation scheme that the government is badly in need of, the focus does not seem right. The PM is certain that the revenue can be taken up to Rs8 trillion per annum. There is no plan, however, where people and businesses are incentivized to increase the economic activity; growth in economy will most definitely translate into more revenues.

Lacking any such plan, the government has accepted the offer by the opposition parties to agree to a charter of economy. So much so that the prime minister has agreed to setting up a high-level parliamentary committee to suggest ways for taking the country out of the current economic crisis. The committee would include members of all political parties in addition to lawmakers from Senate and the NA.

It is probably for the same reason that the PM has notified another council that will take strategic and policy level decisions and will set direction for the security, trade and regional cooperation policies.

There is so much happening around with no clear direction. Pakistan has never needed a steadier hand on the wheel than it does now.