A Common Person’s Budget

 

The cabinet meeting is in session at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in Islamabad, with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar presenting his mini budget, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif presiding.

With a flair, he drops a funny quip that this is a really the sort of exercise akin to the famous Pappu yaar tung na kurr (cute friend don’t give me hard time) that adorns many rickshaws, trucks and buses. In our case, this Pappu yaar is the IMF.

Mian Sahib, I am just noting for the record our situation with the IMF, and after a quick closure, we will be reviewing the progress of the Orange Line and the entertainment park project in Lahore.

Earlier this month, the IMF had conditionally approved the release in December of a $502 million (Rs52-55 billion) tranche of Pakistan’s three-year $6.68 billion program, even though we had missed targets for tax revenue generation, net domestic assets and the budget deficit. This is a very kind gesture, and I asked my office to send by courier a thank you card to the IMF President Christine Lagarde. Indeed a very charming lady. Mian Sahib, the next time, I meet with her, I would like to carry a personal invitation from you to her to join you for dinner at Jati Umra. She needs a peek into true Pakistani hospitality.

An all excited Mian Sahib thumps the table in approval, adding the Dar Sahib is more than a finance whiz!

The finance minister continues, while all this was going on smoothly, but you know how bureaucrats are. They started sending notices. They warned us that the release of December’s approved $502 million tranche depended on the announcement of new measures to generate an extra Pakistan rupees 40 billion ($380 million) in revenue, which is taxes.

As wisely advised by our Mian Sahib, we will not be publishing any numbers in Pak rupees, but only in British Pound Sterling. This will surely reduce any shock some people may feel. And we know who these are, spoilt people who can only have imported butter at breakfast … and today, I saw a tweet from Shirin Mazari complaining about honey! I said, honey! Who takes in honey in Pakistan? The only time, a common man, I mean some common people take honey when a mini drop is put on their tongue after birth. So why cry over honey!

Really honey! What are all the sugar mills for? Mian Sahib is an expert in the sugar industry.

Mian Sahib, and my friends around the table, as you know that I am minimizing the impact of these new IMF required taxes. Yes, need to remind the people that these are not our taxes. Nothing is going into our pockets from them. These are IMF taxes, and more importantly Pakistanis need to be reminded that IMF is not a Government of Pakistan department but an international agency. Just like we have to obey UN orders, we have to follow IMF instructions. The more diligently we follow their instructions, the more loans we can get. Simple!

Dar continues that he has assured the IMF that whatever dives the international petroleum market may take but we will not reduce our prices even a decimal point. This is our golden egg!

The Prime Minister interjects in a light vein, this our Swarovski diamond covered golden egg!

The finance minster chimes in that it is exactly the case. And the Prime Minister adds another quip about seeing Swarovski covered cars in London visiting from Dubai.

Dar draws the Prime Minister’s attention again, adding and what petrol has to do with the common man. Does he own cars? Indeed, the common man is blessed that our Mian Sahib is providing transportation through our Metro bus projects!

The finance minister said that they have kept in mind not to increase duties that would make items more expensive for the common man, placing the list of items on which taxes has been imposed/enhanced. The list is already with the attendees. The items on which the duty has been enhanced included packed or imported yogurt, butter, dairy spreads, cheese, natural honey, pineapples, guavas, mangoes, orange, lemons, apples, cherries, peaches, strawberries, pomegranates, lichis, dried fruits, chewing gum, cocoa powder, macaroni, vermicelli, pasta, corn flakes, sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, rusks, cucumbers, pickles, tomatoes, tomatoes paste, potatoes and other vegetables, soya sauce, tomato ketchup and other tomato sauces.

The list also includes ice cream, syrups and squashes, mineral waters, dog or cat food, perfumes, makeup items, nail polish, face and talcum powder, face and skin creams, lotions, shampoos, hair dyes, toothpaste, deodorants, soap in other forms, marble, granite and other stone, waste and scrap of tinned iron or steel, semi-finished products of iron or non- alloy steel, bars and rods, hot-rolled, in irregularly wound coils, of iron or non-alloy steel.

Finance Minister Dar breaking into a broad smile adds that in one of her post-divorce interviews, Reham Khan said that Imran only lives on one chappati. So at least the government is safe on this account the taxed items are only things that Imran does not consume.

The Prime Minister guffaws adding but we need to keep an eye on tweets; Imran may still start asking for reduction of petrol prices or reduction of taxes on certain items.

 

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