LAHORE: The Punjab government is finalising a proposal to introduce a flood cess in the province to raise money for relief and rehabilitation work in flood-hit areas.
“This tax will only be levied on people who have the capacity to pay it,” Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told reporters after a four-hour cabinet meeting on Monday.
He said that additional funds would be generated through austerity measures. “No reception or iftar party will be arranged at the official level. Our foreign guests will be served only one dish,” he said.
The government was also cutting non-developmental expenditure and revising the Annual Development Programme. He said his government had not bought a single new vehicle, and on official trips abroad he and members of his delegation paid all expenses from their own pockets.
The chief minister said the floods had affected 8.5 million people in the Punjab and caused Rs80 billion worth of damage. The government was sending 40,000 water bottles and essential medicines to the affected areas every day, he said.
Some 400 trucks filled with food supplies have been sent to the flood-hit areas, while C-130 planes are dropping supplies in Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur, which have been cut off by road from central Punjab. The supply of dry rations, or uncooked food, will begin on August 17.
Sharif said that the National Disaster Management Authority had so far provided tents and 25,000 packets of food, while the Punjab government was using its own resources for other relief work.
He said the worst-ever flood in the country’s history could only be tackled by a united nation. “We are in a state of war and a spirit of jihad is required to tackle this challenge,” he said.
The chief minister welcomed the setting up of a flood relief commission on the proposal of his brother Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif said now was the time to help the millions hurt by the disaster, not to engage in political point scoring. “We need to seek forgiveness from Allah Almighty and pray He grant us the courage and steadfastness to tackle this challenge,” he said.
“Helping the flood-affected is a religious and national obligation. Philanthropists and well-to-do segments of society should come forward and take an active part in this noble cause,” he added.
Sharif said that the supply of fruits and vegetables had been suspended when roads to Dera Ghazi Khan and Muzaffargarh were cut off, thus driving prices up. He said the Punjab government had reduced the price of a 20 kg flour bag by Rs100 in the open market and Rs125 in Ramazan Bazaars. Sugar is being sold at Rs61 per kg in Ramazan Bazaars.
He said the floods had also meant the government had not been able to meet its target of setting up 1,000 Sasti Roti Dastarkhwans, where the poor can get free food. But 400 such sites are up and running and more are being set up, he added.
Earlier, the irrigation secretary briefed the cabinet on the damage done to the irrigation network. The senior member of the Board of Revenue gave a briefing on relief activities while the chairman of the Planning and Development Board spoke about plans for a survey to asses what needed to be done to rehabilitate the flood victims.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2010.