By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: An estimated 22.8 million children between the age of 5-16, 44 percent of all children in Pakistan are out of school, which is one of the highest numbers of out of school children in the world.
This was revealed in a briefing session on “Raising taxes on tobacco products for revenue generation” organized by the Society for Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) in Islamabad on Monday.
The Executive Director SPARC Sajjad Ahmed said that Pakistan has not made much progress on its commitment to provide free and quality education to every child according to article 25-A of the Constitution.
Pakistan has around 87.938 million children, approximately 47% of its total population.
Allocating the salaries of teachers does not equate to working on education. The adequate budget should be allotted to convert primary schools into middle and secondary schools to curb down the drop-out-ratio of children.
The CEO Human Development Foundation (HDF) Colonel (retd) Azhar Saleem said that the large fiscal imbalances in Pakistan require greater tax revenues. Tobacco taxation can positively contribute to government revenues.
Simultaneously, these taxes will also help promote child education objectives.
Colonel (retd) Azhar Saleem further added tobacco surcharge alone can generate Rs 50 billion in revenue. A surcharge will help reduce tobacco consumption and can also be redirected towards education.
The Senior Economist at the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) Waseem Saleem said that the level of under-reporting of cigarette production in Pakistan has significant negative implications for government tax revenue.
The revenue loss due to undeclared production is estimated to be Rs 31 billion while by including GST revenue, it becomes Rs 37 billion (considering the average FED rate of Rs 1.93 per cigarette in 2016-17, calculated by dividing total revenue by the volume of sales).
The Manager Research and Communication at SPARC Khalil Ahmed said that the volume of illicit trade is very low as compared to the claims made by the tobacco industry.
Khalil Ahmed further added that the annual economic cost of smoking in Pakistan is as high as Rs 143.208 billion.
While addressing to participants, the Secretary-General of Pakistan National Heart Association Chaudhry Sana Ullah Ghuman said that the big tobacco industry caused a whopping Rs 153 billion loss to the national exchequer from 2016 to 2019 by being awarded low tax rate and adjusting the prices of their most sold brands.
Chaudhry Sana Ullah Ghuman further added local manufactures of cigarettes have their representation in the Senate and National Assembly and big companies even approach the Prime Minister to plead their case regarding taxation on tobacco products.
The session attended by civil society activists, health advocates, anti-tobacco campaigners, experts, and journalists.