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Pakistan Divided IMF Pushes for 45% Income Tax, Govt Stands Firm at 35%

Talks between Pakistan and the IMF have reached a standstill due to a contentious dispute over proposed changes to the country's income tax structure, as reported by a media outlet on Sunday.

During discussions held on Friday, Pakistani officials and representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deliberated on several key issues pertaining to taxation and the energy sector. However, disagreements arose primarily concerning the revision of income tax rates and the application of an 18% standard sales tax on agricultural and health sector goods.

According to sources cited in the Express Tribune, both parties failed to find common ground on critical aspects, including the income tax threshold, the potential merger of salaried and non-salaried tax rates, and the maximum income tax rate for individuals.

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Of particular contention was the proposal to introduce a steep 45% income tax rate for both salaried and non-salaried individuals earning a monthly income slightly exceeding Pakistani Rs 467,000. Presently, the maximum tax rate of 35% applies to monthly incomes exceeding Pakistani Rs 500,000.

While there was consensus on increasing the tax burden on exporters in the upcoming budget, with exporters having contributed a mere Pakistani Rs 86 billion in taxes this year, negotiations stalled over the precise details of income tax adjustments.

The IMF advocated for the amalgamation of tax slabs related to salaried, non-salaried, and other incomes, as well as an increase in the maximum income tax rate from 35% to 45%. However, the Pakistani government remained reluctant to impose a 45% tax rate on salaried individuals, proposing to maintain the current threshold of Pakistani Rs 6,00,000 for taxable income.

Additionally, discussions revolved around proposals to tax pensions above a certain income threshold and to differentiate tax slabs for salaried and non-salaried individuals, albeit with an increased maximum tax rate of 45% for non-salaried individuals.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's administration expressed reluctance to impose a heavier tax burden on the salaried class, highlighting concerns over equity and fairness in taxation policies.

The proposed changes also included adjustments to tax rates at various income levels. For instance, the government contemplated raising the tax rate on monthly incomes exceeding Pakistani Rs 100,000 to 7.5% from the current 2.5%, while discussions suggested a potential 20% tax rate on incomes up to Pakistani Rs 133,000, compared to the current 12.5% rate for incomes up to Pakistani Rs 200,000.

Moreover, the IMF urged Pakistan to reconsider special tax regimes, proposing the elimination of preferential tax treatment for stock market gains and bank deposits. The IMF's recommendations aimed to rectify Pakistan's taxation system, perceived to exacerbate inequality and place undue burdens on certain segments of the population.

Despite ongoing deliberations, no consensus was reached on the imposition of an 18% sales tax on essential agricultural inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds, as well as medical supplies and equipment. The government expressed reservations about these proposals, citing potential adverse impacts on crucial sectors.

The impasse in negotiations underscores the urgency for Pakistan to secure a new loan from the IMF before the end of the fiscal year in June, as the government strives to avert the specter of default and stabilize the country's economy.

June 10, 2024 5:26 p.m. 502

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