Dawn Editorial 11 December 2020

Refund claims

THE announcement by the FBR to allow exporters of the five ex-zero rated export sectors, including the textiles and clothing industry, to refile their claims for “missing amounts” of their past sales tax refunds should be a major relief. In a circular issued earlier this week, the FBR admitted that the flaws in its Fully Automated Sales Tax e-Refunds system rolled out almost a year ago for fast-track processing and payment of export refund claims in 72 hours “simply missed out on the sales tax credits of various taxpayers”, thus stalling the processing of refund claims. The FBR claims that the flaws in FASTER have been remedied and matters regarding the processing of past missing amounts of sales tax refunds resolved. In such cases, where missing amounts could be pulled up by the system, according to the circular, the taxpayers have been asked to refile claims after adjusting refund claims and sales tax returns. In other cases, taxpayers have been asked to apply to the field formations concerned if they believe that a “material amount of their refund claims remains unaccounted for”. It is expected the officials concerned will take immediate action on their requests and sanction the claimed amount after quick examination and verification.
Exporters had been complaining about their missing amounts and unaccounted for refund claims since the automation of the system, which was causing “uncertainty and stuck-up liquidity”. The FBR, however, refused to acknowledge this issue until July when the government began to fast-track payments of outstanding sales tax claims to facilitate efforts to boost export shipments as part of the post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan. To the FBR’s credit, the exporters began receiving refunds within the stipulated timeframe of three days once FASTER design flaws were fixed. Besides automation of sales tax refunds, another area where the FBR has made significant progress in recent months, relates to the automation of the custom rebate claims of exporters for immediate payment. Nevertheless, exporters continue to face problems with regard to payment of their refund claims related to income tax and duty drawback of taxes on exports, which the FBR must sort out.
Ever since the removal of lockdown restrictions, Pakistan has significantly increased its overseas shipments, including those of textiles and clothing, and expanded its global market share taking advantage of the supply-chain disruptions in India and Bangladesh owing to the pandemic as well as China’s deteriorating trade ties with the US and Europe. The growth in export orders has infused a new confidence in exporters as many are planning substantial capacity expansion to not only retain their existing market share but also to increase it. The FBR can facilitate their growth plans by ensuring that its systems and processes do not hold back their funds and create a liquidity crunch for them.



Indian disinformation

AN extensive investigation by a European group has come up with startling findings about an Indian network aggressively promoting disinformation. According to the EU DisinfoLab, the mission of this network is to discredit nations in conflict with India in Asia — especially Pakistan (but also China).
Its long-term objective gives credence to the term ‘fifth-generation warfare’, as the campaign aims to reinforce pro-India sentiment while pushing anti-Pakistan sentiment across the world by manipulating the media. With a dual goal to consolidate India’s power and image in the world and damage the reputation of other countries, the Indian network has worked diligently since 2005 to get favourable support from international institutions such as the EU and UN.
In order to achieve this, the network created NGOs, think tanks and ‘fake’ news media outlets to influence the European Parliament and create the impression that pro-India, anti-Pakistan interests have support in European institutions. The network even repackages and disseminates news through Indian wire agency ANI, as well as little known media networks in 97 countries, to amplify anti-Pakistan content. Shockingly, the network resurrected a dead professor by using his identity and used 750 fake media outlets to push its propaganda.
The sheer volume of information revealed about this network is astounding. Although the European group has cautioned against attributing the network and its activities to Indian intelligence agencies definitively, there is a big question mark hanging over the Indian government which must explain who is behind this campaign. After all, its pro-India, anti-Pakistan stance, as well as its carefully constructed fake-news machinery, is benefiting the Indian government and its aspirations of a ‘dominant India’ narrative.
The international community must raise its voice and demand an explanation from New Delhi about this group, which continues to operate despite being exposed for the first time last year. Such propaganda is dangerous and has far-reaching consequences.
The network’s attempts to create a negative impression of Pakistan through fake news betrays a sinister campaign which is beginning to define the conflict of our times. The EU DisinfoLab’s evidence-based analysis is led by the belief that citizens should be well-informed about the source of information and that they understand the context. This principle is key to preventing people from being manipulated, especially on social media.
Their stellar investigation should serve as a wake-up call for India to punish such actors who intentionally engage in disinformation and abuse international institutions.



Karachi fire safety

WITH rapid and unplanned growth in Karachi, fire hazards present a major challenge where protection of life and property are concerned. This is especially true considering the mushroom growth of high-rises and multistorey commercial and residential buildings in the metropolis over the last few years. When incidents of fire occur, civic agencies are found to be woefully unprepared and under-resourced. Unfortunately, in their effort to cut corners, builders do not include essential safety features in their structures. In this regard, the Sindh High Court has been hearing a petition regarding the enforcement of fire and safety regulations. The court was told during a recent hearing that task forces have been formed at the district, divisional and sub-divisional level to inspect buildings and factories to ensure they are adhering to safety codes. During an earlier hearing the court was informed of the sad state of the Karachi fire brigade. For example, only 14 fire tenders are said to be in working order, with 30 faulty vehicles sent for repairs. The court was also told that the federal government will provide 48 fire trucks for the Sindh capital.
To ensure that Karachi is ready to deal with fire emergencies, two things are essential. Firstly, the relevant building code and fire-safety provisions must be enforced so that new structures coming up in the city do not turn into fire traps. These must have clear fire exits, escapes and sprinkler systems in place — especially where high-rises are concerned. Regular inspections by the civic authorities are also important. Secondly, the city must have a well-equipped, well-trained fire department where personnel can handle blazes of various intensities. At present, the fire department often has to depend on support from other institutions, such as the navy or KPT, to control blazes of high intensities. Ignoring fire-safety codes in buildings and leaving an unequipped fire department to its own devices puts the lives of citizens at risk.


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