Country’s foreign debt at $53.7bn, NA told

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly (NA) was informed on Thursday that the country was still under the burden of $53.7 billion foreign debt while the payment of $6.03 billion had already been made during the last three years.

The information was provided by Minister of State for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar to the House.

Replying to a question, Khar said the total loan comprises $44.8 billion of public and publicly guaranteed loans and $8.9 billion of International Monetary Fund (IMF). The country had paid $1.13 billion loan in 2007-08, $2.5 billion in 2008-09 and $2.3 billion in 2009-10 along with the interest worth $982.6 million, $872.9 million and $775.4 million, respectively.

She further said that from 114 tax defaulters of Rs 22.09 billion, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had recovered Rs 11.79 billion. However, in 52 cases, the court had granted stay order and in these cases the default money was Rs 17.77 billion.

To another question, she said during last two years, the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) had provided $47.2 million grants and a loan worth $4.2 billion to Pakistan. The said amount was disbursed in power, agriculture, infrastructure, education, health, poverty alleviation and environment sectors. The ADB funded projects like Agriculture Sector Reforms, Balochistan Road Development Sector Programme, Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Programme, Tausa Barrage Rehabilitation, Education Sector Reforms and Poverty Alleviation projects.

Responding to another query, Khar said currently there was no proposal to introduce uniform formula for collecting tax from each taxpayer because under the existing Income Tax Ordinance 2001, the tax was imposed on quantum of taxable income of every person.

She said direct tax-to-GDP ratio was 4.6 percent and the ratio of direct tax collection was 40 percent against 60 percent indirect taxes.

Following the efforts of the FBR, she said 1.4 million new return filers had been brought on tax roll in 2008 and 2.3 million in 2010 and got tax revenue worth Rs 388 million and Rs 527 million in two respective years.

Alternate energy: The House was informed that Pakistan has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China to set up 27 model villages to introduce alternate energy in the agriculture sector.

Khar said the agreement had been signed between Zarai Traqqiati Bank and a Chinese company that would follow the finalisation of a timeframe and selection of villages.

She said the government was striving to introduce alternate energy in all mega projects for power generation as currently the purpose was being served by using oil and gas, which increases the production cost.

To a question, the state minister said to curb smuggling on Pakistan-India border. Pakistan Customs had enhanced surveillance and monitoring of passengers and vehicles and installed baggage-scanning machine, besides manual examination of suspicious baggage. She said the government would receive financial assistance from WB and ADB for the Citizen Damage Compensation programme for rehabilitation of flood-hit people.

She said an MoU has been signed with the WB and the ADB, under which they provided financial assistance of $3 million for flood-affected people that had been passed to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). For imposition of tax on agriculture income, the parliament would have to make an amendment in the constitution as Schedule IV bars imposition of any such tax.

2005 earthquake: Pakistan has so far received $1.68 billion aid and loans out of $2.33 billion committed by the countries after 2005 earthquake, which had hit most parts of Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas and claimed around 73,000 lives. Minister-in-charge of Prime Minister Secretariat told the NA that Pakistan was yet to receive $651 million as the amount was with donors and would be provided to ERRA through withdrawal applications.

The ERRA, she said had utilised the whole financial assistance provided to it.

Among the donors who have not fully executed their pledges include ADB which was yet to pay $90 million, IDB loan worth $95 million, $130.4 million Saudi Fund, $44.4 million Kuwait Fund, $17.72 IDB Istisna, $270 million Chinese Preferred Buyer Credit and $4 million OPEC Loan.

To another question, the state minister said out of 63 television channels licensed by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, 56 have filed their returns whereas the rest of the non-filers were being pursued. But for the year 2010, only two entities have filed returns as the deadline in this regard was December 31, 2010 – DailyTimes