ISLAMABAD -  Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Monday announced to keep oil prices unchanged for the month of November and to clear all the tax refunds that are due till June 30, 2016 within next seven days.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has turned down the summary of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), which proposed to increase the oil prices up to 15 percent for November, he said, while addressing a press conference. He said that the government would bear the financial burden of four billion rupees by keeping petroleum products prices unchanged.

He said that Standard and Poor's has improved Pakistan's long-term credit rating from B-to B with stable outlook, which is positive sign for the country. He said that the federal cabinet is expected to grant approval for ratification of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convention today (Tuesday), after which the instrument of ratification will be issued with approval of the President Mamnoon Hussain and will subsequently be deposited with the OECD.

"The overall impact of keeping oil prices unchanged since April this year is around Rs12 billion," he said. While responding to a question, he said that the government had missed the tax collection target during the first quarter (July-September) of the current fiscal year due to keeping oil prices unchanged, he said on a question.

While sharing details, the minister said that OGRA has recommended enhancing petrol price by Rs2.29 to Rs66.56 per liter. Kerosene oil price was proposed to increase by Rs6.57 to Rs50 per liter. Similarly, it worked out ex-depot sale price of light diesel oil (LDO) at Rs49.74 per litre instead of Rs43.35 per litre, up Rs6.40 per litre or 14.76pc. The OGRA has also estimated the sale price of High speed Diesel (HSD) to go up by Rs2 per litre to Rs74.52 instead of Rs72.52 per litre. It has asked to increase HOBC price by Rs9.82 to Rs82.5 per liter.

However, the minister said that the prime minister has directed to maintain the prices to benefit the common people of the country. He informed that General Sales Tax (GST) on four products of oil prices is less as compared to the level of tax in March 2013. Dar said that the government is currently collecting Rs9.1 GST on per liter of petrol, which was Rs14.7 in March 2013. Similarly, GST on kerosene oil is Rs0.85 per liter as against Rs14.3 per liter in March 2013. GST on HOBC is Rs10.56 as compared to Rs10.56 per liter against Rs19.32 per liter. GST on LDO is only Rs0.85 per liter as against Rs13.55 per liter. However, the government is collecting more GST on HSD, which is Rs17.99 per liter as compared to 15.66.

Dar announced that, pursuant to the promise made by the prime minister, due process has been completed for issuance of sales tax refunds, amounting to Rs25 billion, for Refund Payment Orders (RPOs) issued up to June 30, 2016. He said that payments of these refunds shall be made to the recipients within the next seven days. He said that, for the first time ever, these refunds shall be paid directly into the accounts of the refund recipients, in order to save them from the inconvenience of depositing and clearing cheques.

He said that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is making the necessary arrangements in this regard. He also stated that a focal person has been nominated at FBR for the refunds. He said that all complaints in delays or difficulty in obtaining these sales tax refunds can be addressed to FBR focal person at strefund@fbr.gov.pk.

He denied that the government is paying refunds to the exporters by taking loan. "The government is paying the amount from the divisible pool," he confirmed. He also informed that the government would present 'The Draft of Companies Bill 2016' in federal cabinet today for approval and would be presented in the next session of the National Assembly for legislation. He said that the government has finalised the bill with the consultations of the stakeholders. The bill would also deal with the offshore companies, he added.

He said that the Draft Bill emphasizes use of technology at all levels including filing of documents to SECP electronically, supply of documents to members electronically, voting through e-ballot, participation in meetings through video link, and conversion of physical shares into book-entry form. He stated that in order to address challenges posed by off-shore companies, an enhanced disclosure regime for officers and members of those companies has been provided under the Draft Bill, while stringent penalties have been introduced in cases of false or non-disclosure. He said that the Draft Bill also introduces other reforms such as simplification of the memorandum, passing of members' resolution through circulation, and the amalgamation of wholly owned subsidiaries in the holding company without any approval. He further informed that the Draft Bill also introduces Agriculture Promotion Company as a new type of a company, in order to promote the agriculture sector.

The minister said that Standard & Poor's has improved Pakistan's long-term credit rating from B-to-B with stable outlook. This comes as a result of the government's improved policymaking, strong performance of the economy and the good prospects for the country's fiscal and external positions. Standard & Poor's has highlighted that Pakistan continues to benefit from improving governance under the present government, he stated. The government's reform programme has helped to restore macro-economic stability, reduce fiscal and external vulnerabilities, and promote growth-supporting reforms that have the potential to improve living standards, he added.

Standard & Poor's, while issuing Pakistan's revised rating, has also revised upward its forecasts of: Average annual GDP growth to 5% over 2016-2019 from the earlier estimate of 4.7%. Pakistan's debt to fall below 60% of GDP by 2018, he said. The upward revision in rating also reflects the government's continued focus on closing infrastructure shortfalls, reforms in the energy sector, gradual gains in fiscal consolidation and beefed up foreign exchange reserve, he added.

On a question, Dar said that sit-ins cause huge economic losses to the national kitty. The government suffered Rs100 billion losses due to the delay in privatisation of OGDCL during last sit-in of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He said that the government is ready to negotiate with the PTI for finalising Terms of References (ToRs) to investigate Panama leaks if they come with professional attitude.

To a question about prevailing political situation in the country, the minister said that the government has no objection on organising peaceful demonstrations, but PTI's track record did not corroborate this. He said PTI should respect court's verdict to hold their rally at the parade ground. Answering another question, he said that the government tried its best to evolve consensus ToRs, but the opposition wanted them person specific.