Budget to Rob the Poor 

budget 2014By Qudsia Farhat 

Budget 2014-15 held no surprises. Despite tall claims of being people friendly and favouring the masses, it turned out to be a damp squib. As usual, with total impunity, traders and retailers jacked up the prices of items in anticipation of budgetary inflation and maintained the raised costs even on items which did not merit the raise. Some cosmetic impositions like taxes on the upper class of air travel or no direct taxes on wages are just illusionary. Withholding taxes on supply goods and services and on execution of contracts provide vendors the leverage to impose a hike on retail prices and thus further squeeze the masses. The stock market, abode of fat cats, enjoys relief through a reduction of taxes on traders’ profit by five percent. The honourable finance minister, himself a former accountant, which reflects in his budgetary outlay of juggling to balance accounts receivable with payables, remains oblivious to the fact that the common man, on whose shoulders, the government gets elected, has never seen the insides of a stock market. He is more concerned with earning his daily bread, the price of which continues to get steeper. True that the taxes on registration of higher engine capacity vehicles and purchase of land have been jacked up but these are avenues, way beyond the reach of the poor and the rich have ways of evading the taxes.

Food prices will rocket up since fertilizer costs will be raised.

As far as taxation is concerned, those within the tax net, including the low paid employees, will be further squeezed since they are in the system. No endeavour has been made to widen the tax net. Apart from a frivolous attempt to demand the declaration of the NTN number while applying for new Sui gas and electricity connections, there has been, no plan exists to enhance tax collection or enlarge the figure of only one percent Pakistanis, who are paying taxes. The Economic Survey of Pakistan Report for 2013-14 was presented by Mr. Ishaq Dar only a day prior to the budget presentation. What is appalling is that if the government knows the exact amount of goods and services actually produced during the period of the report and also their market value, why it fails to collect tax on them. Is it criminal neglect or unmindful obliviousness?

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PML (N)’s election slogan of shattering the begging bowl has proved to be a myth as new loans of mammoth proportion have turned the begging bowl into a cauldron. The burden of repaying the gargantuan loans at exorbitant interest rates will again be on the poor masses.

[box] Hazrat Abu Bakr (RAU), the first Caliph of Islam, who was a prosperous cloth merchant and trader but on assumption of public office, he abolished his trade. This decision was based on the rationale that as head of the state, if he were to devote time to his business, it would interfere with his attention to the matters of governance. Secondly, he thought that by continuing to pursue trade, he would receive undue favours.[/box]

It is commendable that focus has been made on heavy development projects like energy and infrastructure; Metro Bus and Train, dams, power plants, roads and rail but the development of the human resource has been badly neglected. One would have liked to see higher allocation for education, health and environment but unfortunately, these are sadly ignored or have received infinitesimal attention. The United Nations had announced Millennium Development Goals for each country at the turn of the century; the cutoff date for the completion of which is 2015, which is round the corner. They include the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction in child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development. Each one of these should be part of the manifesto of any political party for serving the masses. Pakistan had adopted 16 targets and 41 indicators against which progress towards achieving the Eight Goals of the MDG’s is measured. Unfortunately, we have missed each one of these targets, with little or no hope of achieving even one in the remaining six months. The reason is quite simple any emphasis on social uplift of the masses is totally missing.

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The Finance Minister’s instruction to the masses to tighten their belts and adopt austere measure in view of the soaring inflation is sound advice. It however sounds hollow, when the same masses are informed that theprovision of charity for the most deprived families is Rs 1,500 per month. Simultaneously, budgetary allocations for the Prime Minister’s and President’s Houses have been jacked up astronomically and amount to Rs 1,500 per minute or Rs 90,000 per hour. If that is not a mockery of the downtrodden masses then what is; that all citizens are equal but some are more equal.

Critics have labeled the current budget as the “Businessman-friendly budget”. No surprises there, because once upon a time we were being ruled by a coterie of Generals; now we are being ruled by a coterie of businessmen, who are prone to look after the interests of their own community. It is ironic that at the expense of the impoverished masses, a week before the presentation of the budget, the business friendly government introduced exemptions for the business corporate class from taxes and customs duties to the tune of Rupees 477 billion. Compare this to the miniscule raise in basic wages and salaries of government servants. The outbreak of violence in the capital city of Islamabad, when clerks arose in protest should be an eye opener to the ruling junta as it is only a tip of the iceberg and many more humble servants are likely to take up the agenda of protest in sheer desperation.

The ruling party of PML (N), which owes allegiance to the teachings of Islam, should remember the lessons from Hazrat Abu Bakr (RAU), the first Caliph of Islam, who was a prosperous cloth merchant and trader but on assumption of public office, he abolished his trade. This decision was based on the rationale that as head of the state, if he were to devote time to his business, it would interfere with his attention to the matters of governance. Secondly, he thought that by continuing to pursue trade, he would receive undue favours. There are such remarkable examples in Islamic history, which the government should emulate to serve the people rather than rob them.

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