ISLAMABAD: A promise by the government to evolve a national consensus on proposed taxation reforms appears to have gone unheard as its allies and opponents vowed to put their strength together to block the legislation, calling it anti-people.
Hours after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said he would reach out to coalition partners and opposition parties to win their support for the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), political groups rejected the move with threats to obstruct it.
“We will take everybody into confidence on the GST reforms bill,” Gilani told media here on Thursday as the government prepares to move the draft legislation in the National Assembly on Friday.
Members of the federal cabinet on Wednesday approved new taxation measures of around Rs70 billion through reforming an outdated sales tax regime, increasing regulatory duty on imports and announcing to impose one-time surcharge to rebuild flood-devastated areas. The government insisted the new system known as RGST would not impact the lives of impoverished segments of society already facing hard times due to an unprecedented price hike.
But other political parties – allies of the government and its opponents – do not buy this argument. They believe the taxation would make it hard for low-income groups to continue their everyday battle for survival.
“It is criminal to support this (RGST),” Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told media outside the parliament as his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) continued to press government on price hike inside the house for third day running.
Members from the PML-N resumed their overnight sloganeering and desk-thumping against the recent wave of price hike, especially this month’s increase in the rates of petroleum products. Unlike on previous occasions, the party got a boost from other opposition groups whose lawmakers put their weight behind a demand by the PML-N to let it table a resolution against inflation.
The entire opposition, though faced with internal fractures, put up a united show to seek the approval of the resolution from the lower house, a demand the government called an attempt to politicise the ‘miseries of the people’.
Voices were also heard from the allies of the government – Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) – which called it a move that would further compound the problems of the poor.
But the loudest objection to both the RGST and the proposed flood surcharge came from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
The party’s parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Dr Farooq Sattar told media at a hurriedly-called news conference in the evening that the group would not support the legislation at any cost.
“It is an anti-people bill. A tsunami of inflation will follow if it is approved. It will put an unbearable burden on masses. It will slow the pace of economic growth,” Dr Sattar told media, making his party’s stance on the RGST crystal clear.
Sindh Assembly walkout
In Sindh Assembly, the MQM staged a walkout against the one-time flood tax on Thursday.
Parliamentary leader of MQM Syed Sardar Ahmed announced a walkout against the speeches of PPP members in which they said the flood tax bill would be tabled in the assembly soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2010.
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