Pakistan Business Council criticises government for policy U-turns

KARACHI: Pakistan Business Council (PBC) has criticised the government for additional surcharges, taxes and positive fuel adjustment on five export-oriented sectors, saying a ‘policy U-turns, especially with retrospective effect do not bode well for export competiveness’.

“The Pakistan Business Council is disappointed by yet another knee jerk U turn in government policy,” PBC said in a statement. “If not reversed, this threatens Pakistan’s exports and will discourage investment in capacity and capability.”

The government had announced an all inclusive tariff of 7.5 US cents/KWh for the five export sectors on January 1, 2019 to enhance Pakistan’s exports competiveness. “However, barely a year later on January 13, 2020, the ministry of energy instructed Discos (power distribution companies) to charge add ons and surcharges amounting to 70 percent, raising the aggregate cost to 13 cents/KWh,” PBC said. “To make matter worse, the add-ons and surcharges will apply retrospectively from January 1, 2019.”

PBC said it is not the first policy reversal with retrospective effect on business.

Earlier, the Finance Act 2019 cut the tax credit to half for investment in plant and machinery already made or to be made by June 30, 2020. It also totally withdrew the 10 percent tax credit previously allowed on investment between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, even if the same had already been committed.

“Policy U-turns, especially with retrospective effect do not bode well for export competiveness, import substitution, investment or employment,” the council said. “Yet all these are critical for Pakistan’s economy.” PBC asked the authorities how the country’s exports, when subjected to 13 cents/KWh, expected to compete with those from India and Bangladesh at 7-9 cents/KWh and China between 7.5-10 cents/KWh?

“How are exporters expected to pay the difference of tariff arising from the retrospective U-turn when it was not factored into the price of exports already made? A more relevant question is why exporters should be encumbered by legacy, inefficiency and idle capacity costs of our poorly managed energy complex? The 7.5 cents/KWh cost already included a margin of 5.27 cents to cover distribution and fixed costs.” It said a third recent example of a policy U turn is the reduction in import duty on mobile phones.

Earlier, the import duty had been raised to encourage local production. Several investments had been made.

The statement said the PBC’s advocacy of ‘Make in Pakistan’ has three objectives: promote valueadded exports, encourage import substitution and create jobs in the country. “Policy U-turns, especially with retrospective effect, run counter to these objectives,” it added.

The PBC urges the government to review each of these U-turns, restore the competiveness of Pakistan’s industry and promote investment.

It also urges a holistic view to be taken of policy changes to ensure alignment. “Often policy reversals arise from the ministries working in silos. A prime example is chasing revenue to meet a ministry’s short term target, in the process sacrificing the long term health of business and the economy, defeating the government’s objectives.”

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