Amid national outcry, PM Khan withdraws 210 billion rupee amnesty to big businesses

In this file photo, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the legislative assembly in Muzaffarabad on Aug. 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 September 2019

Amid national outcry, PM Khan withdraws 210 billion rupee amnesty to big businesses

  • Last month, government promulgated ordinance for out-of-court settlement of a Rs417 billion dispute, waving 50% dues
  • The payables are due from fertilizer plants, general industry, power producers, generation companies, and CNG sectors

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has withdrawn a controversial ordinance promulgated last week offering Rs210 billion in financial amnesty to fertilizer and power plants and other major industries, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
Last month, the government announced that it had promulgated the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) Ordinance for the out-of-court settlement, without a pre-audit, of a Rs417 billion dispute with fertilizer and power plants, general industry and the CNG sector. Under the ordinance, 50 percent of the industries’ bills would be waved.
The announcement created a national outcry, with top TV anchors and social media users criticizing the government for giving illegal tax breaks to big businesses, particularly in light of the government’s much-publicized struggle to lift revenues and cut ballooning public debt.
“In view of the recent controversy, the prime minister, in the interest of transparency and good governance, has decided to withdraw the said ordinance,” the prime minister’s office said.
Khan also directed the attorney general to ensure an urgent Supreme Court hearing to retrieve Rs417 billion in payables from the fertilizer, CNG, general industry and power sector from January 2012 till December 2018.
On Tuesday, the federal cabinet had also asked the ministry of law to amend the GIDC Ordinance to include a forensic audit as a prerequisite for signing any settlement agreement with businesses.
In recent months, Pakistan’s main tax collection body, the Federal Board of Revenue, has launched a crackdown on hundreds of wealthy people, targeting landlords and owners of luxury cars, as well as individuals with a trail of large business transactions but no tax returns. An anti-graft crusade promoted by PM Khan has also led to swathes of arrests of politicians.
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he cast as a venal political elite and to collect taxes from the powerful.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the PM’s top adviser on finance, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, said Khan had ordered that the matter of the GIDC be referred to the Supreme Court so that any decision taken was in accordance with the law and in the interest of the people instead of vested interests, and it was visible to the public that transparency was a major goal of the incumbent government.
“Justice must not only be done but it must also be seen to be done,” petroleum minister Omar Ayub Khan said at the same presser, explaining the PM’s motives for withdrawing the ordinance.

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

Updated 07 October 2019

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

  • Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades

NEW DELHI: Ravish Kumar is nervous about the “danger that Indian democracy is facing today” and how “a systematic attempt is being made by the ruling establishment in Delhi to suppress all the dissenting voices in the country.

“Journalism prepares you to face the unknown everyday, so I was not really surprised when I got the call from the (Magsaysay) award committee,” Kumar said.

“The problem was that I was asked to keep it a secret until they had made a public announcement. It was painful to keep quiet for almost a month,” he told Arab News with a smile.

“When the news became public, I realized what I had been bestowed with. I feel the award is a vindication of trust in good journalism. People felt as if the award had been bestowed on them,” he added.

It is this concern for democracy and its institutions that earned Kumar the prestigious Magsaysay award for 2019.

Instituted in 1957, it is awarded every year by the Philippine government in memory of its former president Ramon Magsaysay for “integrity in governance, courageous service to the people and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

Kumar, who works as a managing editor of India’s leading bilingual TV channel, NDTV, has created a niche for himself in the world of journalism with his daily primetime show, which draws huge audiences from across India. 

At a time when most mainstream TV channels and newspapers have stopped questioning the government and challenging its narrative, Kumar’s reporting takes a critical approach to the lawmakers.

For this constant critique of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the government does not send any of its spokespersons on his show or the channel.

He laments that a large section of the Indian media has become “an extended arm of the government and the mouthpiece of the establishment.”

For his outspoken attitude, Kumar and his family have received threats from “people who are subsidized by the ruling party.”

“I don’t have any hope for the media. It is dead in the country. Just a few are holding the placard of fearless journalism,” he said, adding that “the death of independent media has affected true reporting from Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation in the region is so bad that after the abrogation of its special status, even the significant moderate voices in India have been pushed to the militant camps,” he said.

Describing the government’s policy on Kashmir as “brazen,” he questioned the “audacity of the government to hold local body elections in the valley when there is a complete lockdown.

Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades, adding that he was aghast at the Supreme Court’s silence on the abrogation.

“Why is it taking so long for the apex court to intervene on the issue of the internet lockdown in the Kashmir valley? Can you imagine the American Supreme Court behaving the way the Indian judiciary is acting on such a crucial issue?” He asked.

He said that the decline of independent institutions such as the media, judiciary and election commission is gradually creating a democratic imbalance.

Kumar understands the award has given an extra responsibility on him and that he felt “burdened with expectations.” So great are those expectations, he has not ruled out entering politics.

“Politics is a good thing. I tell everyone to join politics,” he said, adding that his current responsibility is to “warn people about the danger that is lurking in Indian society.”