THE Pakistan Democratic Movement has further raised political temperatures with the announcement that its constituent lawmakers will hand over their resignations to their respective party leaders before the year ends — a development that would create more uncertainty and turmoil in an already tense environment.
Although it is not yet clear when the PDM parties will hand these resignations over to the national and provincial assembly speakers, the very prospect of half-empty assemblies, more protests and marches, the talk of by-elections and the possibility of a boycott all point to a deeply chaotic and challenging new year. Given the economic, employment and Covid-19 challenges, a prolonged period of uncertainty will do little to assuage the concerns of members of the public. It is therefore imperative that both sides reflect carefully on their planned political manoeuvres.
The PDM must take a moment to seriously reflect on the resignation issue. Not only will en masse resignations push an already dejected and battered nation into further disarray, an alliance that has been forged to strengthen democracy may inadvertently strengthen undemocratic forces. Despite all its efforts, the opposition may not succeed in bringing down the government, but the paralysis that would result from the sustained protests of those who have resigned from parliament can be harmful for democracy.
More importantly, the PDM’s resignation strategy should prompt an internal discussion about the role of two of its major parties — the PML-N and PPP — during the 2014 sit-ins when the PTI threatened similar action. The PML-N in particular, played a mature and sensible role when in government and made a genuine effort to engage with opposition lawmakers to defuse the situation. At the time, the speaker sought reasons behind the resignations in an attempt to avert a crisis. The PML-N should explain why tendering resignations today is justified when it was something its government did everything to avoid when faced with the predicament.
As it confronts an alienated, seething opposition, the government, too, must change tack to save itself — from its own myopic, tunnel-vision approach. Incendiary, knee-jerk statements and schoolyard bullying tactics must come to an end. Instead, tact, cool-headedness and long-term thinking should prevail. It is in the PTI’s own interest to adopt the approach the PML-N took back in 2014 on the resignation issue.
Mocking the opposition is akin to shouting fire in a crowded theatre, and will only complicate its already immense governance challenges. It must tone down the anti-corruption rhetoric and begin to seriously engage with the opposition to decelerate a snowballing crisis through talks. Here, there is an opportunity for a grand national dialogue with mediators and middlemen who are acceptable to both sides. The initiative ought to be taken by the PTI and welcomed by the PDM. The present atmosphere of acrimony and bitter verbal onslaughts is counterproductive for everyone.
HR Day 2020
THE coronavirus pandemic has hovered like a cloud over most of 2020, shrouding everything in uncertainty and affecting every aspect of our lives. It is therefore fitting that the theme — ‘Recover better: stand up for human rights’ — of this year’s Human Rights Day which is observed annually on Dec 10, also relates to the global contagion. If anything, the pandemic has cast into stark relief social inequalities and people’s inequitable access to health and economic resources. And where suffering and deprivation existed before, they have been magnified still further. Those belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata, among them marginalised communities, are faced with an uphill battle to recover from the financial shock. Moreover, because they cannot afford ‘luxuries’ like regular medical checkups and good nutrition, they tend to present a higher incidence of co-morbidities such as obesity, high blood pressure, etc. This in turn makes them more susceptible to the worst ravages of Covid-19. In the US, where new cases are exceeding 200,000 each day, one can see that being a developed country is on its own no guarantee of a better outcome if leaders place politics and self-interest above the needs of their people.
With the first vaccine doses being administered, hope has been kindled that the world will turn the corner in a few months. However, despite the efforts of the WHO and a pledge by China to make its Covid-19 vaccine a ‘global public good’ so as to make it more affordable, it is still too early to gauge when poorer countries will get access to vaccination. But when this nightmare is over, when humanity through its scientific prowess has triumphed over this challenge, let us not forget that the pandemic was a shared story, the first such commonly experienced event in over a century. What follows should not be business as usual. From all indications, global calamities are not going to be the exception, with disease — particularly caused by drug-resistant pathogens — and climate change posing an ongoing threat to the human condition. Countries must find ways to tackle these events through a collective effort by agreeing on basic protocols, notwithstanding political rivalries. On an individual level, each country must ensure that access to health and education is no longer an empty promise. The terrible months that the global community has weathered together should make us resolve yet more firmly to build a better and more equitable world.
THE PTI government’s decision to not extend further the deadline for filing income tax returns for the tax year 2020 has caught many by surprise. A large number of taxpayers did not take the repeated warnings by the Federal Board of Revenue seriously during the last few days that it was in no mood to give more time for the payment of income tax — there were 39pc fewer tax returns filed this year before the expiry of the extended deadline on Tuesday as compared to the nearly 3m returns submitted last year. Even a strong demand from different business lobbies such as the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry failed to make the board change its mind. However, the FBR has directed its field formations to facilitate delinquent taxpayers who are applying for a few extra days to file their returns.
This is probably the first such step ever taken by the government to what a senior official said “bring tax discipline” to the country. But is this step enough to ensure tax compliance? Only recently the FBR shut down 310,000 cases of non-filers selected for audit, sending the people a message to the contrary. And what about the 7.4m individuals who, the government contends, do not pay their share of income tax despite enjoying a comfortable to luxurious lifestyle? Why is it yet to launch the promised crackdown against such people for evading tax payments? More importantly, what steps has it taken so far to reform an unfair income tax regime that relies on withholding and presumptive regimes? What actions have been taken to restructure the FBR to free it from alleged corruption within its ranks, and improve its capacity and performance? The government cannot encourage tax culture just by forcing people to file their returns on time. Only a fair and equitable regime can motivate the people to voluntarily become a part of the tax system. The government should be working towards this goal.