* Interior minister says taxes may stay unchanged this year

* Sees debt restructuring in lieu of IMF loan tranche

ABU DHABI: Pakistan may not be able to implement tax reforms needed this year to ensure funds from an emergency IMF loan, its Interior Minister said on Tuesday, and is alternatively seeking foreign help in restructuring its debt.

Rehman Malik, in an interview in Abu Dhabi, said it was the wrong time to introduce a new general sales tax, which has been requested by the (IMF) as a condition of it releasing the sixth tranche of an $11 billion emergency loan crucial to Pakistan’s economy.

“We are fighting a war, and when we’re fighting a war we’re losing our economy. What we want from the international community is, if they can’t give us the funds then please give us help restructuring our debt,” Malik said.

“I think it’s time that the restructuring of IMF loans should be done, giving us a sufficient grace period, enabling us to enhance our economy.”

President Asif Ali Zardari’s weak government is in dire need of financial aid after summer floods last year caused nearly $10 billion in losses for the US ally, which is also trying to soothe public frustrations as it battles a Taliban insurgency, deep poverty and power cuts.

Pakistan’s prime minister said last week the country would delay a much-deferred implementation of the new general sales tax until a political consensus was reached on the issue. Malik said the tax was currently unfeasible.

“I think it’s a time that we shouldn’t ask this (tax reform) from the nation. Yes, the tax base needs to be enhanced but it has to be on a time frame,” Malik said. Asked whether the government had any plans to do that this year, he said, “No, I think this is the time to ask for restructuring.”

Malik also said his government had no plans to change a blasphemy law that has come under international scrutiny after it was used to sentence a Pakistani Christian woman to death in November. But he said he had created an oversight committee to look into misuse of the law. Former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his security guard earlier this month after backing amendments to the blasphemy laws, which critics say are discriminatory to minority groups and are often misused to settle personal scores.

“We have no intention to change the blasphemy law, but we have all the intention for it not to be misused,” Malik said.

Malik said he had appointed a 10-member committee to examine claims of misuse, adding that it would have representatives from every sect living in the country.

“According to our research, more than 70 percent of the misusage is used on Muslims,” he said. reuters

Source: Daily Times