The Express Tribune Editorial 3 October 2019

Tax shortfall


Under Shabbar Zaidi, the FBR is doing a good job, but not good enough to satisfy the IMF. Tax collection in the first quarter of the ongoing fiscal year is 13.5% higher on a year-on-year basis. The figure, however, has fallen short of the IMF expectations. As agreed with the global lender for the sake of securing the $6 billion loan facility, the PTI government was to collect Rs1,071 billion in the first three months of FY2019-20, with the target for the full year being Rs5,550 billion. But as per the provisional estimates, the government could only manage Rs955 billion tax revenue in the July-September quarter which means a shortfall of Rs116 billion or nearly 10 per cent of the target. The tax collection would have dipped to Rs910 billion — i.e. a shortfall higher by Rs45 billion — had the FBR not held back on the tax refunds and cleared the whole of Rs75 billion as committed.
The Rs116 billion shortfall is a cause for concern for the common man on how the government is going to bridge up the gap. There are apprehensions of a minibudget or a cut in development spending. However, neither option is digestible for a people already heavily taxed — both directly and indirectly — and bearing with a growth rate has fallen below 3 per cent, translating mainly into job cuts. This takes us back to a time when Asad Umar had been negotiating with the IMF for a bailout package. The then the foreign minister would strongly insist that the IMF bailout programme would not burden the common man. Will the government now choose some ‘uncommon’ men to impose taxes on in order to make up for the tax shortfall?
Going by this rate — Rs116 billion for a quarter — the shortfall for the full fiscal comes to something around Rs450 billion. Instead of squeezing the common man further, the government must look for avenues for raising non-tax revenues. Privatisation of sick industrial units is not a bad option.


60 days of tyrannical welfare


The state authorities in occupied Kashmir have proudly admitted before the Indian Supreme Court that they have been detaining children and that the “brief” detentions are legal. They have admitted holding at least 144 children, 60 of whom under 15, and one just nine years of age. Most of these minor children were charged with stone-pelting which brings up the question: What has Indian law enforcers been doing to make nine-year-olds angry enough to challenge bullets with pebbles? While the nine-year-old was released within a few hours, other children have been held for as long as 24 days, according to reports.
India claims to be the largest democracy in the world, but the treatment of children that it claims to be its citizens is only one aspect of the repugnant undemocratic actions it has taken in the disputed state since the lockdown began 60 days ago. India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta actually had the gall to claim before its Supreme Court on Tuesday that “no restrictions” have been thrust on Kashmir and “100% landlines [phone] are working”. Yet, when asked by a judge about cellular services, Mehta argued that mobile phones are a relatively recent phenomenon in Jammu and Kashmir. “Mobile lines had been there in the rest of the country since 1995, but only started in J&K in 2005” was his nonsensical explanation for killing cellular and internet services.
Well, relative to India’s 5,000-plus years of known history, democracy is also a recent phenomenon. But freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are cornerstones of democracy. There may be legitimate arguments for suspending them “temporarily” — for a few hours or even days — but for two months? Without an exact timeframe, “temporary” could mean anything. Years. Decades. Centuries. If that sounds exaggerated, just recall that the Kashmir dispute itself is over 70 years old, and nowhere near being resolved.
Nobel laureate Albert Camus once wrote, “The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants.” A population larger than that of Belgium or Greece or Portugal is living in a vacuum, and India claims it is a “security measure” for the welfare of Kashmiris.


The arrest of maniac killer


Credit should go where it is due. The maniac suspected to be involved in the rape and murder of three children in Chunian near Kasur has been arrested. The Punjab Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, confirmed on Oct 1 that the suspect, 27-year-old Sohail Shehzad, was behind all the four cases of sodomy and murder. He had been identified using polygraphic and DNA testing. The incidents occurred last month and the police arrested the maniac by the end of the month. They deserve all praise for their efficiency. The CM said semen on the clothes of one boy and blood on the clothes of another matched with samples of the suspect. These cases had shaken Kasur last month. The incidents once again brought into sharp focus the growing prevalence of child sexual abuse in the country. The suspect is a resident of tehsil Chunian, where the remains of the three minor boys were found on Sept 17. Shehzad is a habitual offender. He was arrested in 2011 for raping a five-year-old boy and served jail time for the offence. Three children, aged between eight and 12 years, had gone missing in June. Another eight-year-old boy disappeared on the night of Sept 16. The remains of the three boys were found on Sept 17. The accused, Shehzad, is being tried by an anti-terrorism court.
In recent years, Kasur has been rocked by incidents of abuse, rape and murder of children. In January 2018, six-year-old Zainab Ansari was found murdered. Her killer and rapist, Imran Ali, was executed in October of the same year. He too was a habitual offender. In 2015, a village in Kasur district had attracted international attention when a child pornography ring was busted.
PM Imran Khan has instructed the authorities to launch a new application, Mera Bacha Alert, to help tackle cases of child abduction. Unfortunately, the Zainab Alert Bill has been lying with a parliamentary committee for long. Predators should be eliminated; our children should be protected.

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