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KARACHI: To raise their voice for the release of all those poor Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails for having mistakenly crossed over to Indian waters while fishing on the high seas, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) organised a protest and sit-in outside the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

Fisherfolk from as far as Thatta and Sujawal joined the fishermen of Karachi to protest along with the wives and children of the fishermen in jails.

They were holding banners inscribed with slogans such as ‘Stop arresting poor fishermen’, ‘Stop sending fishermen in coffins’, ‘Indian terrorism unacceptable’, ‘Let fishermen earn their livelihood’, etc.

‘The families of fishermen don’t know when their loved ones will return home, or if they will come back alive even’

The protest was led by PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah.

Showing grave concern over the constant arrests of fishermen on both sides, with Pakistani fishermen locked up in Indian jails and Indian fishermen locked away in Pakistani jails, he said that it was an issue of human rights, which were being violated.

“Currently there are more than 127 Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails,” he said, adding that the arrests of fishermen on both sides had been going on since 1987.

“And escalation of war between Pakistan and India always makes matters worse for these poor fishermen,” he said. And this, he added was despite both Pakistan and India being signatories to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.

“Article 73 of the convention clearly states that no fisherman can be arrested while fishing on the high seas, nor can he be punished or apprehended,” he said while praising Pakistan’s decision of releasing 355 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture. He hoped that the Indian government would also appreciate the gesture.

Gulab Shah of the PFF said that the families of those fishermen doing time in Indian jails felt frustrated. “In many cases their only earning member has been taken away from them. And they are living on other people’s charity,” he said.

Nur Mohammad Themour, also from the PFF, said that the families of fishermen were also afraid. “They are afraid as they don’t know when their fathers, brothers and husbands will return home and if they will come back home alive even,” he said.

The governments of both Pakistan and India have been urged to come up with a fishermen-friendly policy so that the poor fishermen of either country don’t have to suffer like this anymore.

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Taxation
State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar has said that the tax amnesty scheme would be launched later this month, most probably through a presidential ordinance. Addressing a press conference here at Press Information Department (PID) on Thursday, Hammad Azhar said a final decision would be taken in this regard on April 15 after the return of Finance Minister Asad Umer from the USA. “If we are unable to get time to sail through the scheme from the Parliament, an ordinance would be promulgated. The scheme would be presented before the federal cabinet for approval.”

He said the data on the Dubai offshore properties is being compiled by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). As soon as Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) will receive information, FBR will start issuing notices to the owners of undeclared properties in the UAE. Responding to a query on the Benami law, he said FBR has started issuing notices to owners of benami properties under the Benami law on a daily basis.To another question, he said modalities will be finalized when IMF staff mission will visit Pakistan to finalise the programme. Answering a question, he stated that the government has not committed to the IMF that it would be increasing tax rates. About massive revenue shortfall in FBR collections, he said the FBR collects 40 percent of its total revenue at the import stage and now the imports are moving in negative direction. “Due to this we are not getting growth in revenue. However, there is an increase of 3 percent in revenue collection during current fiscal year if compared with the last fiscal,” he said. A shortfall in revenue collection has been witnessed if compared to the assigned targets.

He said the government is planning to enhance the values of immovable properties again. To a question, he said the government is forecasting a handsome growth in export during April 2019.

The integration of data mechanism is being implemented and results would be seen by the end of the current month. The non-filers’ data has been integrated with the help of information available with the FBR, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and FIA to bring non-filers into the tax net. Azhar said the economic indicators are moving in the right direction due to meticulous steps taken by the government. He said the government is correcting the course of economy that was destroyed by the previous government.
Rejecting the statistics given by former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar the other day, the minister of state for revenue said the external debt is increasing at half a rate compared with PML-N government’s first eight months. He said the foreign exchange reserves are increasing at a better pace than before.

Admitting increase in inflation, the minister of state said it was due to depreciation of currency. However, the government is determined to bring it down for the benefit of common man. He reiterated that the next one-and-a-half years will prove to be a difficult period for the country’s economy.

He said: “We – Prime Minister Imran Khan, Finance Minister Asad Umar and myself – have all been saying this. This is because the extent of the damage to the economy was such that time will be required in its recovery.”

“We are told a lot that we must not keep referring to past mistakes and instead only talk about our own [plan]. When we are still suffering the after-effects of old [economic] policies, how can we not talk about the past?” he said.

“The policies we are drafting now are directly related to redressal of the harm done, the effects of which are still being felt. This is why we refer to the past time and again,” he added.

The minister also sought to set the record straight regarding the remarks issued by Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda regarding offshore oil drilling activity, which Vawda had claimed would change the fortunes of the country within a month. “A ship is drilling at a distance of 250 kilometres off Karachi’s coast. There is no doubt if gas reserves are discovered there, experts are of the opinion that it [the site] will be included among the world’s top ten reserves.””He [Vawda] only expressed hope; his style is such that he expressed it very firmly. The statement must be understood in the context it was given,” Azhar explained. During the press conference, Azhar also outrightly rejected statements given by PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz in criticism of the economic policies of the incumbent government.

“We have depreciated the currency by 10.8 per cent. The PML-N in the first eight months of their tenure had devalued it by 10.1 per cent and in the last seven months had devalued it by 17 per cent,” he said. “So kindly refrain from concocting stories of depreciation and casting sand into people’s eyes,” the revenue minister said while addressing Hamza Shahbaz.

“Let me also go on to state for the record why we had to depreciate the currency. When your foreign currency reserves in August are depleted to the extent that you can not meet your short-term liabilities, you cannot afford to throw billions of dollars into the market to defend an over-valued currency,” said the minister. Azhar went on to say, “Today the value of the rupee stands closer to its real value.”

“The false numbers quoted by him [Hamza] today, I believe, were so that he can basically draw attention away from his case, which he made no mention of at all,” said Azhar. He termed the Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz’s hue and cry over current situation of Pakistan’s economy as a tactic of shifting attention of the people and media from his money laundering case. “No matter how much you scream and shout, we will not give you an NRO,” vowed the revenue minister.
“Looking at the media reports that are emerging, which describe how the money was taken abroad and then brought back, make it abundantly clear that there is no discernible difference between the Omni Group case and the Hamza Shahbaz case,” he said. Further digging into the figures ‘misquoted’ by the PML-N leader, Azhar said that Hamza had spoken of the stock market plummeting but had “failed to mention that in the last year of their tenure, from May 2017-18, the stock market had dropped down from 53,000 points to 44,000 points and provided no reason for why this occurred.”

“If rivers of milk were flowing then why such a drop occurred?” the revenue minister questioned. To a query on taxation on tobacco sector, he said, “We will take any decision for increasing tax on cigarettes on the basis of our own calculations and credible data, but we will not increase taxes on tobacco merely on the suggestions of NGOs.”

The revenue collection from documented tobacco industry would be the highest ever during 2018-19. During the first supplementary finance bill, the FBR has considerably increased taxes on the documented tobacco industry which would result in highest amount of revenue from the tobacco sector.


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Taxation
Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) have decided to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for exchange of data for revenue mobilisation and broadening the tax base. Sources told Business Recorder that the FBR will ink the MoU with the PITB for mutual sharing of knowledge, resources, technical and expertise for data access, data sharing and data integration for enhanced revenue mobilisation.
It is expected that the MoU would be signed for a period of two years between the two sides. The integration of data between the FBR and the PITB would ensure one window facility to sole proprietors and association of persons (AOPs), access to Case Flow Management System (CFMS) for Lahore High Court (LHC), assistance in broadening of the tax net through mutual sharing of data, exchange in technical expertise in data analytics and sciences for risk-based analysis, facilitation for online payment of FBR taxes and enabling users experience for online filing of taxes on IRIS.

One of the major objectives for accessing data is to bring new taxpayers into the tax net with the help of data available with the PITB. The data available with the PITB would be accessed by the tax authorities for the purpose of expanding the tax net.

According to the sources, the Punjab Information Technology Board is implementing a product-based solution having functions related to judiciary Case Flow Management System (CFMS) for Lahore High Court (LHC).

The PITB has worked very closely with Lahore High Court to leverage IT such that the judicial processes are made more efficient, transparent and effective. A state-of-the-art enterprise solution has been rolled out to achieve this objective.

Recently, the FBR held a session for the leading tax consultants, tax managers and businessmen and Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), to create awareness about recent tax reforms undertaken by the FBR for ease of doing business. These reforms contain number of facilities introduced by FBR for the medium- and small-sized companies which include payment of income tax, sales tax and customs duty online through Alternate Delivery Channel (ADC).
The ADC includes payment through ATM, mobile banking and online banking. Online payments of pension contributions and social security contributions have also been introduced by Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI).

Another reform undertaken by FBR is the introduction of Virtual One Stop Shop (VOSS) whereby a company and its directors get registered with FBR by getting NTN at the time of registration of company with Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

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