Lahore - A Pre-budget Seminar was held at University of Central Punjab (UCP), Lahore here at the University premises under the auspices of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. The event was attended by professionals from various fields including Abdullah Khan Sumbal Additional Chief Secretary Punjab, Tanvir Ashraf Kaira former Finance Minister, Dr Tasneem Zafar Director, Civil Services Academy and Rehman Aziz Chann SVP LCCI. The discussion began with Dr Tasneem Zafer addressing the very basic predicament of insufficient revenues and high fiscal debt. She enunciated that unless the growth is inclusive and contains the trickle-down effect economic success cannot be promised. The spur in growth needs to reach out to all the levels and sectors of the economy to achieve prosperity. A growth model that facilitates only the elite and business class will only increase income inequality and poverty. In addition, she acquainted students with the global and exogenous factors contributing to inflation. Furthermore, she cited that plummeting value of the rupee and rising import bills are the reasons for the current account deficit. At last, she concluded that Pakistan needs to develop long-term growth strategies, but because of its meager budget and poor governance, the development projects always run out of finances. Fiscal deficit always results in austerity and austerity is a curse for a country like Pakistan. Mr. Sumbal shed light on the role of academics in policymaking. He addressed the grievances of the students, who lamented the lack of academic research in fiscal policy. He went on to assure that the planning and development committee will be working closely with the universities and research institutes like PIDE in the future. The process of reforms is deliberately hijacked and sabotaged by bureaucratic maneuvers.

Mr. Chann gave very useful insights on ways to bolster trade and commerce. He highlighted the incompetence of firms receiving a large number of government subsidies. He talked about the promotion of SMEs and selective intervention and government subsidies for pro-job creating sectors of the economy. He claimed that there is a dichotomy between the provincial and federal governments on power sharing. The provincial government has deliberately left loopholes in agriculture taxation.

Also, he mentioned the provincial government’s incapacity to undertake the tasks, hitherto under federal control. He asserted that the tax base needs to be widened by increasing the number of taxpayers instead of overburdening the existing taxpayers. To increase production and long-term growth, he added, the government should prevent the import of consumer-oriented goods and increase the import of capital goods with minimum tariffs to become self-sufficient in the future.

Mr. Tanveer Ashraf was questioned about the complex structure and complicated tax codes that are anti-growth and the hampered growth. The finance bill contains a very complex structure that a parliamentarian and even an economist cannot read. However, we have every conceivable reform available to improve the existing tax structure, but academia is not fully incorporated into the process.

The initial tax structure is very fragmented which leads to loopholes that facilitate particular beneficiaries like elite and business echelons from SROs and exemptions. The panacea to this problem is that we need to have a more open debate and criticism over the finance bill to eliminate the bizarre complexities that hinder growth.

At the end there was a question-answer session and students raised very pertinent questions. At the end, Pro Rector Dr. Nassar Ikram gave the concluding remarks and presented the souvenirs to the guest speakers.