The Minister of State for Revenue, Hammad Azhar presented the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) first annual budget 2019-2020 on Tuesday, with chants of “go Niazi go” ringing from the opposition members as a sign of protest. It was expected but disappointing: cogent arguments to discuss the merits and demerits of this budget are needed and the opposition needs to fulfil their duty in parliament and discuss this budget in the next session instead of the usual name-calling and accusations that we are all too familiar with.

The coming year’s budget relies very heavily on the increased revenue streams through taxation – both direct and indirect – and the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) ambitious tax collection target of Rs5.5 billion tells us that the government expects improved results from the national tax collection body. However, as mentioned previously, apart from assigning a new chairman – who still seen as an outsider within the institution – there have been no real steps taking to help the FBR in achieving this lofty target. FBR suffers from a shortage of staff, at both the officer and inspector levels, requires better training to improve its collection levels and needs more realistic targets that are actually achievable, at the very least so that individuals within FBR do not chalk of each target as impossible and have something tangible to aim for. There are also whispers of rampant corruption in various cities such as Karachi among the tax collectors; the government must look to usher in more transparency if large corporations that avoid paying taxes are to be brought into the tax net.

The hardest hit section of the populace through taxes in the new budget might just be the salaried class, as the reduction of the level of the minimum taxable salary has been halved to Rs50000 per month from the previous figure of Rs100000 per month. With higher inflation, increased indirect taxes on consumer goods such as cooking oil, sugar, powdered milk and others will get more expensive, and with a smaller proportion of their income to spend on goods that now cost higher, those on fixed salaries are going to see their purchasing power reduced substantially. This budget was slated to be a tough one for the common man; but it could have been made easier if more steps were taken to improve the collection rate through strategic spending on FBR instead of solely relying on a tax-heavy budget. The opposition on its part, needs to bring these issues forward – the tired old slogans of selling the country to the IMF are unbecoming of parties such as PML-N that have gotten bailout programmes themselves as well.