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Back to square one: NA body refers election funds issue to cabinet

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  • SBP says funds allocated but don’t have authority to release.
  • “If NA allows funds can be released to ECP,” state minister says.
  • Law minister says this issue will be resolved today.

ISLAMABAD: After a heated debate over the Supreme Court’s order to the central bank directing it to release the funds directly to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue on Monday decided to refer the issue to the cabinet as the deadline to release Rs21 billion ends today.

The Supreme Court on April 14 directed the central bank to release funds worth Rs21 billion for elections in Punjab and send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry by Monday (April 17).

A special meeting of the NA panel was summoned today as the deadline given to the SBP for releasing funds to the electoral body ends today.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar, conducted an in-chamber hearing last week regarding the non-implementation of its April 4 order to the federal government to release the funds and directed the central bank to release funds.

The directives came after the electoral body submitted a report informing the apex court that the Ministry of Finance has failed to release funds as ordered by the three-member bench on April 4.

At the outset of the meeting today, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Acting Governor Sima Kamil informed the NA panel the regulator has allocated Rs21 billion for the ECP to conduct polls in Punjab on the directives of the Supreme Court, however, it does not have the authority to release funds directly.

Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar informed the panel that the Ministry of Finance had already said that it does not have sufficient funds to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.

“Spending twice on elections is not in the country’s interest”, the law minister said, adding that the apex court had directed the central bank to arrange the funds.

He maintained that the trustees of government funds are elected representatives of the people.

It should be noted that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also summoned by the NA body, however, he didn’t attend the meeting today as he was in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, according to sources.

PML-N leader Barjees Tahir added that if the central bank releases funds directly to the electoral body it will be against the law.

“How can the Supreme Court direct the SBP to release funds?” Tahir questioned, adding that if elections are held in Punjab separately it will affect the results of the general elections of the other three provinces later.

The central bank’s acting governor, addressing the criticism it received for allocating the funds, explained to the lawmakers that by allocating the funds the amount will remain in the account.

She further added that they appeared before the Supreme Court on its directive and informed the apex court that the central bank can allocate funds; however, it cannot release the funds.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Finance and Revenue Aisha Ghaus Pasha emphasised that the SBP cannot spend money without the permission of the parliament.

“If the National Assembly allows funds can be released [to the ECP],” she said, clarifying that even the Finance Division cannot spend without seeking permission from the cabinet and the lower house.

Meanwhile, the law minister said that this issue will be resolved today as cabinet and National Assembly sessions are also scheduled.

It should be noted that the summary will also be presented in the National Assembly after the approval of the cabinet. 

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Gold rate declines for second consecutive day

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  • Rate of gold reaches Rs232,800 per tola. 
  • International rate up by $11 per ounce. 
  • The silver price remains unchanged. 

Despite an increase in the international rate, gold’s value declined in Pakistan for the second consecutive day Tuesday.

Data provided by the All Pakistan Sarafa Gems and Jewellers Association (APSGJA) showed the price of gold (24 carats) decreased by Rs1,700 per tola and Rs1,458 per 10 grams to reach Rs232,800 and Rs199,588, respectively.

The gold rate cumulatively lost Rs1,100 per tola last week, and a further Rs1,700 on the opening day this week.

Meanwhile, the international price went up $11 to settle at $1,956 per ounce. 

The safe-haven bullion’s value has remained volatile in the international market recently. However, it bounced back from its lowest level in over two months Tuesday after the US dollar’s value declined from a high and investors remained anxious about negotiations on the US debt ceiling.

If the debt ceiling — which is currently capped at $31.4 trillion — is not raised in the next few days, it would trigger the first-ever US default.

Investors also remained wary about a possible hike in the interest rate, which would negatively affect gold’s value.

Meanwhile, the gold rate has been volatile in Pakistan recently amid continued political and economic uncertainty, high inflation, and currency depreciation. People prefer to buy the yellow metal in such times as a safe investment and a hedge.

The rupee gained Re0.07 or 0.02% against the US dollar in the interbank market Tuesday, closing at Rs285.35, according to State Bank of Pakistan data.

Data shared by the jeweller’s body showed that the rate of silver remained unchanged at Rs2,850 per tola and Rs2,443.41 per 20 grams, respectively. 

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France launching electric car battery factory to dent Chinese dominance

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Under a plan of reindustrialisation by President Emmanuel Macron, France is to inaugurate a factory for manufacturing batteries for electric cars Tuesday in Billy-Berclau — the first of its kind — challenging the Chinese dominance in the industry, according to an AFP report.

Battery industry buildup is a component of the plan by Macron with a clutch of factories set to emerge in the north of the country over the next three years.

The “gigafactory” is owned by Automotive Cells Company, a partnership between French energy giant TotalEnergies, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz and US-European automaker Stellantis, which produces a range of brands including Peugeot, Fiat and Chrysler.

The inauguration will be attended by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and the country’s energy transition and industry ministers along with German and Italian officials.

The heads of Mercedes, Stellantis and TotalEnergies will also be at the event.

The factory is as large as football pitches in which production will commence this summer.

Elected officials and business leaders intend to turn the Hauts-de-France region into “Battery Valley” — the electric car industry’s answer to Silicon Valley.

AESC-Envision — a Sino-Japanese group — is building a plant near the city of Douai which will supply French automaker Renault from early 2025.

French startup Verkor is scheduled to begin production at a facility in Dunkirk from mid-2025 while Taiwan’s ProLogium has also chosen the coastal city for its first European factory, with output to start in 2026.

Competition between US and China

As European Union (EU) has marked a deadline of 2035 to phase out fossil fuel-run cars, the countries are racing to step up the production of batteries and electric vehicles to meet the target of electric vehicles within the deadline.

In recent years, around 50 battery factory projects have been announced in the EU and the French government has set a target of producing two million electric vehicles per year by 2030, as per the economy ministry.

The ministry said that “the ACC plant will supply 500,000 vehicles per year by then.”

China is the world leader in electric car battery production and also dominates the production of the raw materials needed to make them.

Europe also faces stiff competition from the United States, which is heavily subsidising the sector through the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $370 billion in clean energy incentives.

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Govt mulls slashing duty on mobile phones in budget

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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is mulling options to reduce the duty on mobile phones in the federal budget for the fiscal year 2023-24 — which is expected to be unveiled on June 9 — keeping in view the suggestions of Pakistan Mobile Phone Traders, The News reported Monday.

Previously, the government was obliged to raise the duty on mobile phones by 100% to 150%, and resultantly, only Rs5 billion to Rs10 billion were being deposited in the national exchequer instead of Rs85 billion.

The number of mobile phone users in Pakistan has exceeded 186.9 million. 

In order to cope with the financial crisis of the current financial year, in the new budget, a proposal for a conspicuous reduction in the rates of duties on cellular phones is under consideration, which is about 100% to 150% at present on small and big mobile phones. 

The mobile industry is on the brink of collapse due to an increase in taxes. It not only affected traders but also made the life of millions of people difficult to earn a livelihood.

It has been learnt that a delegation of the Mobile Phones Traders Association has given recommendations to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and other senior officials. 

The delegation ensured that efforts would be made to include the recommendations in the budget. These proposals and recommendations are being reviewed to make them a part of the new budget.

It has been learnt that a 75% duty was imposed on cellular phones in Pakistan as compared to other countries of the region like Singapore, Bangladesh and Turkey where it is not at that level. That is the reason people are using smartphones without paying duties in connivance with FBR.

The additional 100% to 150% duty on cell phones has made it out of reach of the poor, labourers, daily wagers, students, professionals, the lawyer community, and civil society. 

All Pakistan Mobile Phones Traders Association General Secretary Munir Beg Mirza said that due to the ban on the import of used mobile phones, smuggling has increased to give favour to a few companies. 

Also, people are using smartphones illegally without paying heavy taxes to enjoy all functions of smartphones, which is inflicting a loss on the national kitty.

He said that not only every consumer would pay tax but also the government would get Rs100 billion instead of Rs5 billion on phones if an appropriate duty was imposed in the new financial year.

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