Pakistan: Relief package for NWFP, Fata unveiled

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By Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani unveiled on Thursday a package for economic revival of the militancy-hit NWFP and tribal areas.

Relief measures in the package include exemptions from different taxes, reduction in mark-up rates on small loans and writing off agricultural loans.

The prime minister made the announcement at a ceremony organised by the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the residence of the chief minister.

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani, Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, federal and provincial ministers and a large number of businessmen and traders attended the ceremony.

The prime minister said the federal government had already announced Rs17.012 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Malakand division.

The package is divided into three components - fiscal, banking and insurance - for businessmen, traders and farmers of the NWFP, Fata and Pata (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas).

The areas have been categorised into 'most affected', Fata, Pata (seven districts of Malakand division), Hangu, Bannu and Tank districts; 'moderately affected, Peshawar, Charassada, Mardan, Swabi, Dera Ismail Khan, Battagram and Lakki Marwat districts; and 'less affected', Nowshera, Haripur, Abbottabad, Mansehra and Kohistan districts.

Businessmen who will pay the principal amount of sales tax by June 30 will be exempted from all penalties. Sales tax on electricity bills has been waived.

The measures are intended to revive all registered and unregistered industrial units, including those of marble and cosmetics.

The prime minister announced that the federal government would build the Chashma Right Bank Canal to boost agriculture in Dera Ismail Khan. The canal, he said, would boost production, especially of sugarcane.

Mr Gilani also announced a grant of Rs50 million for the 'martyrs trust' set up by the provincial government.

He said the government had completed a record number of development projects and a number of others were under construction. "The government has diversified economy, gave a consensus National Finance Commission award and launched military operations against militants."

The prime minister made a special mention of the return of over 2.5 million internally displaced people to their homes in Malakand.

He said the government had overcome the flour crisis and made the country self-sufficient in wheat and rice. "This has been done through better planning," he said, adding that the sugar crisis would also be resolved.

Highlighting salient features of the package, Finance Minister Tarin said that manufactures could get their sales tax refund claims settled in three days after dispatching export consignments.

He said the State Bank would write off Rs2.56 billion agriculture loans obtained by farmers in Malakand. New loans of Rs3 billion would be given to farmers under the agriculture revival package.

Mr Tarin said that commercial banks would be asked to fix a mark-up rate of 7.50 per cent on existing loans in the province. Small loans in the Malakand region will be written off and electricity and gas bills from May to September 2009 have been waived.

He said that the last date for filing of tax returns by the business community had been extended to June 30.

Businessmen can pay taxes in instalments. They have also been exempted from GST and withholding tax in utility bills.

Industrial units in the most-affected areas have been exempted from excise duty. Industries in the moderately-affected areas will pay 50 per cent of the excise duty.

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