Traders on strike across Pakistan over new IMF-proposed taxes

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Pakistani labourers speak on a mobile phone in a shuttered market during a traders countrywide strike against the prices hike, in Lahore on July 13, 2019. (AFP)
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A wholesale market located in Bolton Market is photographed with shutters down during a strike called by traders against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 and imposition of taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
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Wholesale shops located in Bolton Market photographed with shutters down during a strike called by traders and the business community against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 and imposition of taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
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A hardware market on Karachi’s MA Jinnah Road is closed during a shutter down strike called by the business community against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, and imposition of new taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
Updated 15 July 2019

Traders on strike across Pakistan over new IMF-proposed taxes

  • Almost 90% wholesale markets remained shut in Karachi, strikes in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Multan
  • Protests underline pressures on government which has had to impose strict austerity measures to bolster public finances

KARACHI: Markets and wholesale merchants across Pakistan remained shut on Saturday in a strike against what traders have called ‘unjustified measures’ taken in the federal budget announced by the government last month, ostensibly as part of prior actions prescribed by the International Monetary Fund’s recent $6 billion bailout package.
While not all business associations joined the strike, the shutdown highlights the pressures facing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which came to power last year promising millions of new jobs and welfare measures to help the poor. Instead, it is having to impose tough austerity measures after being forced to turn to the IMF.
Kashif Chaudhry, the president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan (Central Organization of Traders), called the strike a “historical” one, saying markets were closed from the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province all the way to Karachi, the capital of the southern Sindh province.
“Closure [of markets] on a single day costs the country Rs4 billion only in the city of Karachi,” said Atiq Mir, chairman of the Karachi Tajir Itehad, an umbrella group of the city’s trade associations. “Accumulated losses would be around Rs50 billion across the country.”
Traders say they are striking against a complex new system of value added taxes, discretionary powers of tax officials, a complicated income tax system and unreal tax rates. Under the measures proposed by the IMF, the government has also agreed to close loopholes and preferential rates in sales tax on sugar, steel, edible oils and medium and large retailers, hitting many businesses.
Traders are also protesting a new condition imposed by the government that customers who spend more than Rs50,000 will have to present National Identity cards.
Shabbar Zaidi, the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue, Pakistan’s main tax collecting agency, said on Friday the condition to present ID cards would help the government identify tax dodgers in a nation where less than 1 percent of the population of 208 million even files income tax returns.
Responding to the protests, de facto information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government was ready for negotiations and considered traders its partners, but warned those who were protesting due to a “political agenda.”
“We have no political ambitions, our cause is only the traders’ cause,” Kashif Chaudhry of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan said. “We have offered talks many times and we are still ready to talk.”
Traders in Karachi, the main commercial hub of the country, said 90 percent of the city’s wholesale markets were closed, causing the city billions in losses.
Similar strikes were called in other big business centers including the eastern city of Lahore, Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, and Multan, home to a major ceramics industry.


Pakistan Medical Association, doctors fear coronavirus surge as lockdowns lifted nationwide

Updated 09 August 2020

Pakistan Medical Association, doctors fear coronavirus surge as lockdowns lifted nationwide

  • Islamabad’s PIMS hospital had less than 10 coronavirus patients before Eid Al-Adha but new patients coming in since
  • Pakistan announced on Thursday it was opening virtually all sectors closed down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and infectious disease experts on Thursday warned of a possible surge in coronavirus cases due to a premature lifting of restrictions, as the government announced a day earlier that it was opening virtually all sectors closed down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Pakistan shut schools and land borders nearly five months ago, decided to limit domestic and international flights and discouraged large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus. But with infections and deaths down nearly 80 percent since their peak as per government records, the government decided on Thursday to lift the lockdowns to help the country return to normalcy.
Pakistan celebrated the Eid Al-Adha religious holiday last week. After the last major Islamic festival, of Eid Al-Fitr, in May, infections rose to their peak in Pakistan.
Dr. Nasim Akhtar, head of infectious diseases at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad, told Arab News the coronavirus ward at her hospital only had five to six patients before Eid, but new patients had once again started coming in.
“Cases registered a sharp increase after Eid Al-Fitr, and this can happen now again with the lifting of the lockdowns,” she said, adding that the government should have waited at least two more weeks to reopen restaurants and other public places.
“This is a bit early, and may worsen the situation again,” Akhtar said.
The World Health Organization has said “extreme vigilance” was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns, amid global concerns about a second wave of infections.
Germany earlier reported an acceleration in new coronavirus infections after it took early steps to ease its lockdown. South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting virus infections, saw a new outbreak.
“The next week is crucial to see if the infections soar as just one week has passed now since the Eid holidays,” Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News.

 

 

Cases could also surge during the Islamic month of Muharram, which begins in late August, he said, and due to independence day celebrations on August 14. Huge crowds come out all over the world, including in Muslim-majority Pakistan, to commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
“We think that the opening of all these things in a hurry ... probably this will create problems for us,” Sajjad said.
He said infections had risen sharply in the United States and Brazil after the nations lifted restrictions when cases initially declined. Spain reported 1,772 new coronavirus infections on Aug 6, marking the biggest jump since a national lockdown was lifted in June.
University of Health Sciences vice chancellor Javed Akram, however, called the reopening of public places a “wise decision.”
“The government cannot keep the cities and businesses under lockdown forever,” he said. “People should follow health guidelines to fight the virus.”