Senate body approves RGST, flood surcharge bills
By Mubarak Zeb Khan
ISLAMABAD: The absence of PML-N and MQM representatives paved the way for the reformed general sales tax and flood surcharge bills to get through the Senate Standing Committee on Finance here on Tuesday.
However, some members of the committee pointed out a string of technical flaws in the RGST bill.
Islamuddin Sheikh of the PPP presided over the meeting in the absence of the committee’s chairman, Ahmad Ali of the MQM, for the second consecutive day, making the job easier for the government to approve the bills with certain suggestions which will be presented in the Senate in the form of recommendations for a formal discussion.
The flood surcharge was not discussed at the two-day meeting and the entire session was consumed by the RGST bill.
The MQM, in a letter read out at the meeting, rejected the bills. But the chairman said that a letter had no legality if no representative of a party was present.
The parties represented in the committee, including the PML-N, pointed out flaws in the language, legality and scope of the bills, suggesting that everyone was on board even though they had differing views. Even PML-Q Senator Haroon Akhtar Khan, who had opposed the bills along with Khursheed Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami, Ilyas Bilour of the Awami National Party and Kulsoom Perveen of BNP-A, supported the bills after suggesting some amendments for consideration.
The PML-Q support reflects its informal understanding with the government, which had on Monday appointed PML-Q legislator Hamid Yar Hiraj as chairman of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority.
Ishaq Dar of the PML-N, Talha Mehmood of JUI and Safdar Abbasi of the PPP skipped the concluding session, during which the chairman approved the recommendations.
Former senator Chaudhry Mohammad Anwar Bhinder, who attended the meeting on special invitation, also did not turn up after making his initial comments in the morning session.
According to insiders, Mr Bhinder, who had raised some questions about the constitutionality and legality of the bills on the first day, received a message for a meeting with the Senate chairman soon after he repeated his questions.
He left the meeting and after sometime came back, collected his belongings and left again. It was not clear whether his departure had anything to do with his meeting with the Senate chairman.
Earlier, Ishaq Dar offered his services to clarify technical issues in the RGST bill, which were acknowledged by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and the Minister of State for Finance, Hina Rabbani Khar, who also praised his role in developing a consensus among the provinces on the issue of GST on services.
Mr Dar said the RGST bill had 35-40 flaws and suggested that it needed improvement. He engaged himself in the clause-by-clause discussion of the bill which, observers said, meant his party had accepted, in principle, though it wanted further improvement in it.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Dar said his party would accept the bill only after its recommendations for changes were accepted.
The finance minister informed the committee that the government had no option but to approve the bills as per commitment made with international donors.
“This is an issue of our credibility. If we don’t legislate these bills no international donors like the IMF, World Bank and ADB will assist us in future,” he said.
Mr Dar said the law ministry had not properly vetted the law. A representative of the ministry agreed with the observation.
“We received the drafts two days before the cabinet meeting. It is not possible to vet it in such a short time,” the representative said, adding that further improvements will be made in the bills.
The finance minister rejected a proposal by Safdar Abbasi for a new law, but welcomed suggestions for improving the language and other recommendations. “We will consider with open heart any recommendation from any quarter,” he added.