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Dawn Columns: 11.07.2019

Choppy seas ahead

Updated July 11, 2019

 AND so it begins. The ship of state has finally entered those choppy waters that it has been drifting towards for many months now. As the curtain rises on a new fiscal year, the first thing to be revealed is a massive IMF programme taking centre stage. Around that, a commotion [شور شرابا] is under way, with threats of strikes, desperate calls for removal of confusion and anomalies from the new tax plan that sits like a crown atop that IMF programme, and large supply lines and factories grinding to a halt [کسی پراجیکٹ وغیرہ کا رک جانا].

One by one, as the details of the new finance bill where the tax plan is laid out in all its muted glory filtered through the business community, a familiar series of actions unfolded. First the business leaders tallied up the new costs they were facing. With interest rates having more than doubled in just over a year, and the rupee having lost nearly 50 per cent of its value (from 105 to 157), they were now poring over the details of the finance bill to figure out how their business would be impacted by the new tax plan.

Read: IMF gunning for debt reduction, programme shows

They met their managers, then called their accountants and tax advisers, and wherever they looked, they got different answers. There was little clarity as many of the details simply were not adding up. In some cases, the new tax plan had made it more profitable to be an importer of a product rather than its manufacturer. In other cases, it made it impossible for certain categories of business to claim input adjustment since an excise duty would now be implemented in sales tax mode, without actually being a sales tax. In another case the government claimed a ‘typo’ had been made, and quickly reversed some of the language.

Once clarity began to dawn, it became evident that not only were tax rates going up in just about all cases, but in many other cases the documentation requirements laid down were so stringent that manufacturers were about to find themselves estranged from their own distributors and retailers. One by one the realisation spread that nobody has been spared.

‘You will have to pay these taxes’ was the response they received wherever they went.

At this point, they began to speak to each other, first through their personal networks, then through the organised channels of the many trade and industry associations spread across the country. Chambers and association leaders were choked with calls from their constituents, each with their own story to tell. Some got an audience in higher places, others clamoured [بلند آواز میں شور کرنا] for attention. The powerful textile barons of Faisalabad even got the chairman of the FBR, and an important architect of the tax plan, to come and visit them. Others travelled to Islamabad and got audiences at the FBR, with the finance adviser at Q block of the secretariat.

A few anomalies were worked out, but by and large the government was not budging from its position[اپنی جگہ سے ہلنا]. ‘You will have to pay these taxes’ was the response they received wherever they went. The prime minister himself told visiting delegations that he would not interfere and they should take their concerns to the finance adviser, from where these delegations had just come after a fruitless appeal.

Read: 'It's time to change the mindset on taxes,' PM Khan tells Karachi's businesspersons

Then the traders issued a strike call in Karachi, followed shortly by trader bodies in Lahore and Faisalabad as well. In all cases, they were given a tough message by the government. ‘You have come this far without paying your fair share in taxes, but today that journey ends’, they were told. Register yourselves with the tax authorities, and start filing returns and documenting your transactions.

Everybody has been asked to retain a copy of the CNIC of those they buy from or sell to. This applies to manufacturers as well as traders. Payments for which an input or output adjustment is sought must be made through a bank account, they’ve been told, so the details can be tallied up. It’s no more Mr Nice Guy, the new FBR chairman wants to tell all these undocumented businesses. ‘We will find you, because there are more registered industrial consumers of gas and electricity than there are registered with the tax authorities.’ Notices will be sent, raiding teams will visit your premises, neighbourhood police will be used to gather information in their areas.

Alarmed at all this, some delegations went to the army chief himself. As per their own telling, the message they were sent away with was the same. ‘Pay up, the country is going through a difficult time, all must shoulder their burden, we all know how much money you have made in years past’ and so on.

The state cannot back down now. They have already tallied up the revenue they intend to collect from this drive, written it into their projections for the next three years, and chiselled [لکڑی پر چیسی کے ذریعے کھدائی کرنا] those projections into the IMF programme. They have told the IMF that their “ability to overcome entrenched [اپنی جگہ جمی ہوئی] resistance to reforms, will be critical for this new programme to succeed” where others failed before them.

The IMF knows all this. Thirteen programmes and three decades ago, all this played out for the first time, only to peter out [معدوم ہوتے چلے جانا] as the state discovered that in economic matters it cannot simply force its way. The programme has one objective: reduce Pakistan’s debt to manageable levels. “Fiscal slippages and resistance to some of the fiscal measures could undermine the programme’s fiscal consolidation strategy, thus putting debt sustainability at risk,” the Fund says. “Progress in governance and institutional building may be opposed by vested interests”, they continue. “Moreover, the absence of a majority by the ruling party in the upper house may hinder the adoption of legislation needed to achieve programme objectives.”

The headwinds facing the government are about to get very intense indeed. No government can last long if it is at war with everyone, the politicians, the media, the business community. But in at least one of these confrontations, there is now little to do but plough ahead.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019

Jirga space slashed

I. A Rehman

ON a recent visit to the tribal areas, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised the continuation of the jirga system as it was favoured by the people. While honouring this commitment, the government would be well advised to bear in mind the Supreme Court judgement given in January this year.

On a petition filed by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) against jirgas, the Supreme Court, inter alia, ruled:

“i. The operation of jirgas/ panchayats, etc violates Pakistan’s international commitments under the UDHR, ICCPR and CEDAW, which place a responsibility on the state of Pakistan to ensure that everyone has access to courts or tribunals, [and all people] are treated equally before the law and in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals;

“ii. The manner in which jirgas/ panchayats etc function is violative of Articles 4, 8, 10-A, 25 and 175(3) of the Constitution.

“iii. Jirgas/ panchayats etc do not operate under the Constitution or any other law whatsoever to the extent that they attempt to adjudicate on civil or criminal matters; however, they may operate within the permissible limits of the law to the extent of acting as arbitration [منصفی کرنا], mediation [ثالثی کرنا] , negotiation or reconciliation [صلح صفائی پر مبنی ] forums between parties involved in a civil dispute who willingly consent to the same.”

One hopes that KP will deliver on its commitment to ensure there are functioning courts of law in erstwhile Fata.

Along with the NCSW petition the Supreme Court also had before it a petition by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government against a Peshawar High Court judgement whereby the Interim Fata Regulation had been struck down. Although the petition was dismissed as withdrawn, the court did confirm that the regulation was ultra vires [قانونی دائرہ کار سے باہر] of the Constitution.

At the very outset of the hearing, the KP advocate general stated that there was no cavil [چھوٹا سا اعتراض] to the unconstitutionality of the Interim Fata Regulation and he did not wish to press the petition, provided the provincial government was granted six months “to develop the required infrastructure, facilities and ancillary[مددگار] superstructure for courts of law in the area previously referred to as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas”.

The court granted the KP government six months from the date of the judgement (Jan 16, 2019) sought by it, “for the development of infrastructure to take steps to spread a uniform system of courts of ordinary jurisdiction in [KP], mandating the local law-enforcement agencies to ensure that the rule of law is observed by reducing jirgas/ panchayats etc to arbitration forums which may be approached voluntarily by local residents to the extent of civil disputes only”.

It is much to be hoped that the KP government will have complied with the court directive by the coming Tuesday.

While the jirgas avail the Supreme Court’s permission to decide civil matters through mediation and arbitration, the question of the amount of money or value of property in dispute, or the amount of fine/ compensation to be awarded will have to be determined, preferably before the jirgas are legalised.

The Supreme Court upheld the Peshawar High Court’s judgement that had struck down the Interim Fata Regulation on the ground that two different laws on a particular issue could not be applied to the people of KP. Had the two laws made by the KP government to revive the instruments such as the FCR and Actions in Aid of Civil Powers Regulation of 2011 been brought to the Supreme Court’s notice, they too might have been invalidated.[conditional sentence 3]

Further, the court judgement revolves around the power wrongly assumed by jirgas/ panchayats to hear cases involving criminal charges and award punishments and thus arrogate [take or claim something without justification] to themselves the status and powers available only to courts established under the law. Somehow, the question of the composition of jirgas/ panchayats, even when they perform mediation and arbitration functions, was not addressed by the honourable court. Democratic and independent legal quarters have since long argued that jirgas/ panchayats or any forum created to settle disputes between citizens must be elected by the community. Application of this principle to jirgas even when they mediate or arbitrate in civil matters will be necessary to sustain the rule of law.

The court took exception to representation of women by men in cases affecting their rights and observed that women should be allowed to speak for themselves if they wished to. The tribal males’ ability to disregard women’s wishes and thus deny them the facility granted by the court is known. Unfortunately, the question of including women in all councils of elders and jirgas/ panchayats was not addressed. A way will have to be found to ensure women’s gradual induction into these bodies.

Another issue is the class composition of jirgas. By tradition, jirgas and panchayats, not only in KP but elsewhere in the country, too, are dominated by landlords or other influential men. They cannot take unbiased views of matters in which a poor man is pitted against a member of the local nobility. Respect for fair play demands that all classes and sections of society should be represented on jirgas.

The court gave another time-bound directive to the KP police — to encourage citizens to report violations of the law, open complaint centres, protect complainants and witnesses, and allow women to appear before jirgas to present their brief if they so desired. Two months were given for compliance with these principles, and the period expired on March 16, 2019. The compliance status is unclear.

Incidentally, the law officers of the federal and all the four provincial governments “unanimously submitted that although efforts are being made by their respective provincial governments to eliminate any patriarchal practices prevailing in the provinces, they are willing to extend any further support required to curb the illegal practices of honour killings, wani, swara, karo kari, etc, that are not only violative of the fundamental rights of women under the Constitution but are also against the basic rights guaranteed under the international conventions that Pakistan is signatory to in this regard, particularly the... CEDAW”.

We hope these words will be honoured.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019

Exposure to books {this article is about inculcating the habit of reading books at an early age}

July 11, 2019

WHEN I was young, I had friends who had to read under the duvet covers [رضائیاں] at night to hide books from their parents even though the content was far from inappropriate. This was mainstream literature borrowed from the school library. To this day I ponder over what prompted the parents to discourage their children from reading books. During the summer holidays when most school-going children are not on a clockwork schedule and can read for leisure, it might be a good time to inculcate [کسی عادت، علم وغیرہ کوکسی میں پیدا کرنا] the habit.

Social conditioning is the main culprit in too many households that want the best education available for their children and will delight in raving [بے تکی باتیں کرنا] to friends and family about their child’s fantastic academic performance at school but will have a simultaneous need to stunt [نشوو نما روکنا]curiosity and mental growth.

Why is it that our children come out of school with fantastic examination results and yet do not have the ability to contribute constructively to a debate of any sort? Why do so many of them remain silent in front of their ‘elders’, their teachers, parents, family and friends? Why are we so afraid to speak? Perhaps because we are afraid to let our children read all sorts of literature. We love to control what they read for fear of what they might learn and how they might then break social barriers and express themselves.

Reading comes with its own joy and is as important to mental fitness as is food and nutrition to the body. Few things in life can substitute for the satisfaction of curling up with a good book in bed. Whilst many people now read e-books, it is apparent by the day that ‘real’ books are not going anywhere. 

The benefits are endless; perhaps much more than the benefits of eating broccoli or mangoes.

In fact, almost 90 per cent of e-book owners say they read more paperbacks than e-books. Studies by the University of California at Berkley show that the earlier children are exposed to books, especially the ones whose parents read to them as toddlers, the higher their scores on intelligence tests later in life. Children learn more vocabulary from books than they ever will from prime-time television. Pictures in books open up a world of knowledge, pique curiosity, send the mind reeling in different directions, start conversations that dig deep into their thought processes, identity, their place and role in life.

So why does it take us so long to start reading to our children? As a teacher, I have met hundreds of parents who often complained that their child just doesn’t like to read and cannot get through a book cover to cover. I often asked these parents, out of curiosity, when they had first exposed their child to books and it turned out that it was well after the child had started formal schooling. The child’s association with books then is an entirely different one; these are children who associate books with academic pressure and hard work, whereas those who grew up with parents who read stories to them since birth associate books with parental bonding, sharing experiences and family memories. These are children who derive pure joy from reading, and it is embedded deep within them.

Research shows that children who are used to reading as a pastime are less likely to suffer from loneliness and depression — much less than those who have not developed the reading habit. Reading helps adolescents relax, it helps develop a sense of self-worth, it inculcates empathy[دوسروں کا احساس] for others, it boosts brain power, it reduces the probability of diseases such as Alzheimer’s later in life, it teaches empathy and generosity, it provides multiple perspectives on life and so forth. The benefits are endless — perhaps much more than the benefits of eating broccoli or mangoes.

So why do parents shelve this aspect of child-rearing until much later? Some leave it to the teachers altogether although reading is such a necessary part of a parent-child bond. A study by the Scholastic Education Research Foundation found that, when it comes to being read to aloud at home, over 80pc of children between the ages of four and 10 said they loved it and it is their favourite part of the day because it is a special time with the parents.

Many children get the impetus to read from an adult who shows interest in hearing about the stories. It is not just reading that children love but recapping the story. A love of reading cannot be inculcated as an isolated activity. If parents show interest in what the child thinks about the story and listen to their perspective, children gain the analytical ability and confidence to relay their opinions.

The writer is a lecturer of Communication Skills at Amity University, Dubai.


Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019

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