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June 18, 2019

Civil society, trade unions decry absence of relief in federal budget

Karachi

June 18, 2019

Members of the civil society and trade unions in Pakistan have expressed serious concern over the absence of any relief to the common people in the federal budget 2019-20, amid price hikes and the increasing cost of living in the country.

In a statement issued on Monday that was endorsed by various sections of the civil society and trade unions leaders, the activists demanded making the budget pro-people by providing noticeable relief to the common people so they can lead decent lives.

The statement pointed out that Pakistan’s economy is marked by inequality. “For many decades now, Pakistan’s poor have not benefitted much from the growth in the national income. For every 100-rupee increase in the national income, the richest 10 per cent get Rs37 and the poorest 10 per cent get Rs3. However, when a crisis strikes, it is the poor who pay the highest cost.”

IMF

The statement said Pakistan’s economy is now again in a crisis and has to go to the IMF for the 22nd time. “It has had to go to the IMF because the dollar gap is too wide. The gap is wide because Pakistan has opened the doors for imports.

“All the luxury goods that the rich want to use are imported. High taxation has caused many industries to close — reducing exports and employment. High imports and low exports have caused the dollar to become expensive: from Rs105 to a dollar to more than Rs155 to a dollar.

“This is called devaluation of the rupee. As the dollar becomes expensive, all imports also become expensive. If oil becomes expensive, trucking costs also become expensive. And so on. The result is that prices rise — inflation!”

The activists demanded putting an end to the IMF programme because, they believe, the country’s economy is not in a position to sustain its conditions.

Non-development costs

The statement said the government’s non-development expenditures — particularly, the civil administration and defence expenditures — have kept rising. “Partly, it has tried to reduce the deficit by cutting the development expenditures. And partly, it has printed money to fill the gap. The result is that prices rise — inflation!”

Widening trade balance

The activists said the poor is paying the price for the rich refusing to give up imported luxury goods, the poor is paying the price for the rich refusing to pay income and wealth taxes, the poor is paying the price for the government’s refusal to reduce its non-development expenditures, and the poor is paying the price for the government cutting development expenditures.

“Will the poor sit back and let their lives and the lives of their children be ruined? Or will the poor raise their voices and mobilise to fight for their rights?”

Minimum wages

The statement said the federal government has announced Rs17,500 as monthly minimum wages for unskilled workers. “It is unclear on what basis these wages are fixed. The minimum wages boards in the provincial governments should have evolved a method to ascertain the minimum wages.

“Currently, there is a wide gap between the necessities baskets calculated by the government and the living wages needed for living a decent life. The civil society has been demanding to increase the minimum wages to at least Rs35,000 for a decent living of a worker’s family.”

Lack of structural reforms

The activists said Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where land reforms are not carried out in a practical manner, which has made majority of the population living in the rural areas landless and pauper.

“In the past, some efforts were made and a law was passed by the National Assembly in 1977, but the land reforms remained incomplete. The government always takes refuge behind a verdict by the Supreme Court Shariat Appellate Bench in the Qazalbash case, which had declared land reforms un-Islamic.

“Although a review petition is still pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, no effort has been made by the government to provide peasants the right to land to earn their livelihood.

“We demand the government to distribute state land among landless peasant families

at the rate of seven acres per family so they can support their families in an honourable manner.”

Education as basic right

The statement said that over 25 million children are unable to go to schools because of non-availability of schools, teachers or school buildings across Pakistan.

“The Constitution’s Article 25-A assures that every child of the age between five and 16 years would be provided free and compulsory education, but no serious effort has been made on the part of the government to ensure that such a large number of non-school-going children be sent to schools. We demand increasing the education budget so every child in the country is able to get education in government schools.

Social protection as basic right

The activists welcomed the government’s announcement that they would include social protection into the fundamental rights section of the Constitution, which presently exists in Chapter 2 (Principles of Policy). “The principles are regarded as being subject to the availability of resources.

“According to Article 29(3) of the Principles of Policy, every year the president, in relation to the affairs of the federation, and the governor of each province, in relation to the affairs of his province, shall cause to be prepared and laid before the parliament or, as the case may be, the provincial assembly, a report on the observance and implementation of the Principles of Policy, and provision shall be made in the rules of procedure of the National Assembly and the Senate or, as the case may be, the provincial assembly, for discussion on such report.

“But since the implementation of the Constitution in 1973, no president or government has prepared or presented such reports on the Principles of Policy. We demand the president and governors of all four provinces to present such reports on implementation of the Principles of Policy in the respective elected houses.

“We also demand provision of social security services to all the citizens of Pakistan (except for government employees who receive health facilities and pensions) on universal basis, as these services are currently available to only private sector registered workers with provincial Social Security Institutions, Employees Old- age Benefit Institution and Workers Welfare Fund.”

Withdrawal of zero-rated status

The statement said the government has withdrawn the zero-rated facility of five exporting industries — textiles, leather, carpets, surgical goods and sports goods — which may cause the closure of the manufacturing units of these goods across the country, thus rendering hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed. “We demand the government to restore the zero-rated facility of export industries and devise a mechanism for efficient collection of taxes.”

Those who endorsed the statement included Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation, Zehra Khan of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, Asad Iqbal Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Habibuddin Junaidi of the Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee, Liaquat Sahi of the State Bank of Pakistan Democratic Workers Union, Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, senior trade union leader Usman Baloch, Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation, Anis Haroon of the Women Action Forum, Farhat Parveen of the NOWCommunities, Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre, Naghma Shaikh of the Human Rights Defenders and Mir Zulfiqar Ali of the WERO.

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