“The discussion on the proposed reformed general sales tax bill at the level of standing committee on finance has been put off because of opposition by main parties and as a result its implementation will get delayed,” Fauzia Wahab, chairperson of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance, said on Tuesday.
The bill requires approval by the committee before being sent to the National Assembly.
The bill was introduced in the lower house last month. The government had assured international donors that it would approve the bill as early as possible, and RGST would be implemented in January. But almost all political parties, including the PML-N, PML-Q, MQM and JUI-F, said they would oppose the bill in the National Assembly. The Awami National Party is the only coalition partner which is supporting the government on the bill.
Although the standing committee will meet in a couple of days, Ms Wahab said it would focus on removing differences which emerged at the last session.
“I will first hold an internal meeting of the committee shortly to sort out our differences. No other officials or media personnel will be allowed to attend this meeting,” she said.
However, she did not say when the standing committee meeting will be convened to discuss the bill.
As a result of the government’s failure to muster support for the bill, the $11 billion IFM bailout package has been in doldrums. Under the agreement, the IMF programme for Pakistan was scheduled to end this year. The release of last two tranches has been delayed because of the government’s failure to implement IMF-dictated economic reforms.
“I think the (RGST) bill may even be delayed till the next budget in order to take all parties on board,” said Riaz Fatyana, a PML-Q member of the committee.
Bushra Gohar, an ANP member of the committee, said her party would support the bill in the standing committee and the National Assembly because the government had already accepted ANP’s recommendations.
With the ANP on its side, the government has the support of seven members in the 18-member standing committee. But it needs the support of nine members to pass the bill.
The convening of the meeting, Ms Gohar said, was a prerogative of the government. “We have not received any letter or intimation from the chair about the meeting,” she said, adding that almost all members of the committee had at least agreed that economy should be documented.
Khawaja Muhammad Asif of the PML-N said the government had not convened the meeting because of its failure to develop a consensus on the bill. “The government is not interested for the time being to implement the law. The PPP doesn’t have the numbers to pass the bill,” Mr Asif told Dawn.
Riaz Fatyana also claimed that the government lacked majority, but said that the PML-Q would support it if its concerns were addressed.
He said the government was trying to get PML-N support for the bill and had assured its leadership that their
reservations and concerns would be addressed.
Mr Fatyana said that it was mandatory for the government under the 18th Amendment to take all provinces on board before implementing any law.
The RGST bill would be deemed to have killed if any province voted against it, he said, adding: “The PPP will have to take all parties on board on the issue.”
However, he expressed the hope that donors would give space to Islamabad in pursuing a consensus on the bill.
Sources said that the recent letter of President Asif Ali Zardari seeking Nawaz Sharif’s support for his party in the National Assembly clearly indicated the government’s priority in taking the PML-N on board.
“This shows that the government wants PML-N’s support for these unpopular taxation measures in a bid to share political burden and backlash,” they added.