Wanted: An Open Mind
Sanity has prevailed. The joint opposition has decided to end the ongoing boycott of the National Assembly and Senate and seek answers to its questions on the floor of the house. Earlier Khursheed Shah and Shah Mahmud Qureshi had met the Speaker who asked them to nominate opposition members for the joint parliamentary committee on ToRs. Neither the government nor the opposition can remain disconnected and estranged for long despite their differences. In a democratic system there is no better way to resolve the disputes other than talks. The voters expect that those representing them would concentrate on making laws and formulating national policies instead of indulging in corruption or getting involved in no-holds-barred fights. Hopefully the opposition would soon convey the names of its reps so that an attempt is afoot to resolve at least one of the problems that divide the two sides.
The government too has to beware those in its ranks who thrive on the disputes between the government and opposition. That a federal minister was found making provocative gestures towards the opposition benches during the PM’s address indicates that it doesn’t suit some in the PMLN that peace should prevail. A strong vested interest in the form of JUIF is meanwhile trying to add fuel to the fire. Fazl ur Rehman wants to exacerbate the differences between PMLN and PTI to improve his position in KP. This explains the type of speeches he delivered in the presence of the PM both at Bannu and DIK. There are also elements in the PTI who would like the entire opposition to leave Parliament and come out into the streets to remove the government.
The government has much more to lose than the opposition if the dispute remains unresolved. It therefore needs to welcome the opposition’s return to Parliament. The government should also be ready to yield ground on ToRs and on legislation for a powerful judicial commission. The opposition meanwhile has to realise that politics is the art of the possible.
And a clueless government
Unconventional taxation is never a good idea, no matter the spin any government puts on it. It is a tacit admission, among other things, of the inability to raise revenue through conventional taxation. Little wonder, therefore, that, more than often, the governments opting for such measures represent the economic South, just like us. And just as much as Nawaz promised expanding the tax net on the campaign trail – not mandatory fixed taxes or suspect tax breaks – the road from here is likely to feature the reverse.
Yet there are progressive and regressive ideas even in the world of indirect taxation. The decision to introduce a two percent tax on a turnover basis on retailers with shops in high end malls and plazas, for example, might not be such a bad idea. Some if not most of these retailers have been, as the old saying goes, eating off the fat of the land for far too long – without paying any taxes of course. And since other attempts and incentives have all but met the same fate, there’s really no harm in trying a bit of arm-twisting now. It would be worth writing home about even if it bags half of the Rs10b the finance ministry expects.
The other smart idea – slapping a 10 percent tax on branded milk and increasing other dairy product taxes to 17 percent – merits a re-think. Not only does it betray a worrying disregard for common people’s concerns, it also smacks of unsatisfactory business acumen. There’s a good chance, according to news reports, of this initiative undoing the Dutch company Friesland Campina’s anticipated 51 percent acquisition of Engro. And since the last few years haven’t exactly recorded stellar foreign investment statistics, such initiatives should be protected and nurtured, not attacked in an irresponsible manner. It is understandable that the government, unable to raise taxes or exports, is caught in an unenviable position. But it must still be careful about its choice of taxes, lest it alienates more people and business prospects.
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