Indispensable measures

 Shakir Lakhani

The first thing is to direct the FBR not to harass existing honest taxpayers (filers). They have been paying taxes for years while the tax evaders have grown rich beyond belief. Recently, Karachi businessman Siraj Kasam Teli told the Finance Minister that if the FBR is disbanded, he would guarantee an increase in revenue collection of fifteen percent. I believe that the FBR should not be disbanded; it should be asked to recover taxes from the millions who do not pay taxes. In fact, tax evaders should be given exemplary punishment to deter others from cheating the government.

The first category of tax evaders are the smugglers. They are so confident of their strength that they proudly say “If a tax man comes here, he will go back a dead man”. They can be found in the thousands in the Karkhano Market in Hayatabad (Peshawer) as well as the many “bara” markets in upscale localities of every city in the country. By recovering taxes from smugglers, the government can earn billions every year. A campaign (similar to the one on dams) should be launched in the media to convince people not to buy smuggled items like electronic items, cloth and crockery. Every time a citizen buys a smuggled item, the nation loses. This will go a long way in teaching people the evil that smugglers do.

The second kind of evaders is those who deal and speculate in real estate. These enterprising citizens have driven property prices sky-high, so much that the common man can no longer buy a house. About Rs. seven trillion in black money has been parked in this sector. Whenever a property changes hands, the FBR should levy taxes on the “real” value of properties instead of “declared” value (which is usually only a tenth of the real value). If a buyer does not agree, the FBR should exercise its power to stop the sale and auction off the disputed property. Again, the annual revenue will be in the hundred billions.

To reduce or eliminate corruption, the high denomination currency notes and prize bonds should be demonetized. It’s so much easier to carry high-denomination notes and prize bonds that people prefer to use them for paying bribes. Only Rs. 1,000 notes and prize bonds should be retained.

The additional tax on non-filers should be increased to one percent. Again, this will tremendously increase government tax collection, besides inducing them to register themselves with the tax department.

Presently the agriculturists in the country enjoy virtual immunity from taxes. Not only this, they pay a pittance for the water they use for farming. Our sugar industry is the biggest waster of water, using up to 7,000 kg of water to produce one kg of sugar (compared to the international usage of 2,000 kg of water for one kg of sugar). The sugar barons have been looting the country for years, now they should be made to pay income tax like everyone else in the country. They should also be asked to pay water charges to reduce wastage.
Finally, a wealth tax should be imposed on all properties. For some reason, this was discarded a few years back. Such a tax, if levied on the actual value (and not the declared value) will lead to a big increase in tax revenue. To penalize the non-filers, they should be made to pay twice the amount levied on tax-payers. There should either be no wealth tax on houses owned by the poor and widows, or only a fraction of the tax levied on others.

I firmly believe that if these measures are implemented, the government can provide much needed relief to the common man, who is groaning under the weight of sky-rocketing prices. Imran Khan will of course face a lot of resistance from some of his own ministers, but he should convince them to agree in the national interest.


The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, an industrialist, and has been associated with the petroleum, chemical industries for many years
Published in Daily Times, January 22nd 2019.
https://dailytimes.com.pk/346542/indispensable-measures/







 

The outgoing chief justice Saqib Nisar will be remembered for being autocratic and interfering in matters which should not have concerned him. There was, for instance, his obsession with building dams. Even though experts said that mega dams are bad for the environment, he made it treasonable to oppose the construction of dams. Only very bold people wrote about dams after this edict. For this reason, he has been re-named "the dam chief justice" in the social media.

Then there were his visits to hospitals, causing a lot of disruption. He objected to the high salaries of doctors, forgetting that many of them had come back to serve Pakistan despite earning high salaries abroad. 

For some inexplicable reason, he ordered school owners to reduce school fees. Anticipating that they would reduce the salaries of school teachers and other staff, he warned them not to do so. He also made it an offence for schools to close down if the owners found it difficult to continue running them. Evidently the learned ex-judge doesn't know how businesses are run. With the high rate of inflation, salaries as well as school fees have to be increased accordingly. 

But I wonder why he never said anything about the exorbitant fees charged by lawyers like Aitzaz Ahsan (who reportedly charges Rupees ten million at least for a case). Surely the poor are entitled to have access to affordable legal assistance. Then there are the perks which judges get after retirement (amounting to more than a million rupees a month at least). Why didn't he reduce the salaries and perks of his own fraternity? 


Money trail
I’m surprised at Abid Sher Ali, and others, asking Aleema Khan to provide money trail for the purchase of her property in the US. Aleema is the sister of the man certified as ‘sadiq and ameen’, who is doing his best to turn Pakistan into a model state. The next thing you know, they will ask Imran Khan about the money inherited by him to verify his sister’s claim that she got the money from her parents.

This is not acceptable. I appeal to Imran Khan to ignore these frivolous demands and continue his campaign against corrupt politicians. The road to salvation is going to be long and tough, and the opposition should not demand accountability from him, his family and his party members.

Shakir Lakhani
Karachi
The News, January 16, 2019
https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/419419-money-trail

There was a time when Pakistanis were fun-loving people who enjoyed life to the full. Besides the two Eids, there were celebrations on Christmas and New Year's Eve, as well as Nauroze and Diwali. We used to have musical concerts where boys and girls danced throughout the night. But then the Jamat-e-Islami stepped in, stoning vehicles and injuring people who were enjoying themselves, and for many years now no one has celebrated Christmas and New Year, except Christians (but they too do so quietly, lest the kill-joys turn up and indulge in destroying vehicles and property).

A few days back, I wrote on how women are victimized whenever a government in Pakistan is in danger. The authorities have gone further and have now made plans to give burqas and head scarves to Faisalabad University girls who do not cover themselves. Dress codes for female students have been established in schools and colleges throughout the country, forbidding them to wear tight, revealing clothes lest the men who see them go into a frenzy and try to rape them.

And now the latest: apparently someone (I think it's Her Holiness, Imran Khan's wife) traveled by PIA and found that they played music to entertain the passengers. An order was swiftly issued, banning the playing of music during flights. So the national carrier has stopped doing so, apparently having been told it will become a profitable airline, instead of losing billions every month, as it does now. 

Really, if music is responsible for all our woes, why not ban it altogether? Imran Khan said he would create ten million jobs. He can put at least a million of his party voters to work preventing (and even arresting) those who play (or listen to) music. If nothing else, all the religious bigots in Pakistan will become his fans and his vote bank will increase substantially.

I knew it would happen, the only surprise is that it took the new government five months to do it. Whenever a regime in Pakistan finds itself cornered and finding that it is no longer popular, "Islamic" steps are taken to distract the people from the government's inefficiency. In the past, both Zia and the Sharif brothers tried to compel women to cover their heads and dress in a manner that would not provoke men.

Imran Khan's illegitimate government suddenly came to the conclusion that the problems being faced by the country can be resolved by forcing TV channels not to show “indecent scenes, dialogues, extramarital relations, violence, inappropriate dressing, rape scenes, bed scenes, and intimate moments between couples.....  in utter disregard of Pakistani culture and values". The outgoing chief justice (Saqib Nisar) has also ordered that "Indian content" should not be shown in our TV plays and advertisements. By "Indian content" he apparently means women who wear sleeveless dresses.

Even in the U.S., the courts have not been able to decide what is is "indecent" or "pornographic" or "obscene". For those who belong to religious parties, "obscenity" means a woman who is unveiled.

But what exactly is Pakistani culture, which the government wants to protect? In small towns and villages, you see heavily bearded men and fully veiled women all clad in the national dress.

I was at the "Karachi Eat" festival today where most men wore shirts and trousers. There were very few women wearing the hijab, most were dressed in jeans and shirts with their heads uncovered. This is what you see in shopping malls and cinemas also. And this apparently is the "indecent" dress that disturbs those who think they're the guardians of our culture.

As for "indecent scenes, dialogues, extramarital relations, violence, inappropriate dressing, rape scenes, bed scenes, and intimate moments between couples", I'm reminded of the student activists of the Jamat-e-Islami, who even today beat up boys and girls who talk to each other. Recently they thrashed a couple in the Punjab University for walking together, even though the woman kept screaming that the man was her husband.

Of all people, Imran Khan should not have resorted to this measure. He was perceived to be women-friendly and modern (until he married a deeply religious woman last year). His female supporters are surprised that there are only four women in his cabinet of 46 ministers and advisers. It seems that he's changed a lot in the past year. 




I often come across so-called "educated" people who talk like those who lived in the Stone Age. Just because they have bachelor's degrees (which in some parts of the country can be obtained by paying a suitable amount to clerks working in universities), they think they're educated. I'm reminded of Murad Saeed, the very vocal minister who was easily able to get a degree from Peshawer University by sitting for examination in just half an hour (https://tribune.com.pk/story/1737209/1-rules-murad-saeed-gets-degree/). 

Many years ago, I read a book "Self-help" by Samuel Smiles, published in the nineteenth century. The writer narrates an incident about a man who got his degree and told the dean, "I've finished my education". The dean snapped, "Indeed. I haven't yet begun mine".

This attitude towards education was common when I was in school and college. We were encouraged to read a lot. My father used to subscribe to several English and Gujrati newspapers, as well as magazines like Time, Life, Readers Digest and the Saturday Evening Post. He would also buy books written by Erle Stanley Gardner, Edgar Wallace, James Hadley Chase and other popular writers. 

So our family was very different from the average Memon/Gujrati families around us. I still read international newspapers like New York Times on my smart phone whenever I'm alone at wedding dinners, so most guests think there's something wrong with me. They use their smart phones for watching video clips sent to them by their friends who think reading should be avoided at all costs.

The difference between a well-read man and an illiterate man is great. Most of those who work in my field have not read a book after graduation. I had a relative who used to say forcefully that those who read newspapers should not be employed. 

So, knowing that most people would rather watch TV than read a book, it's not surprising that our corpulent information minister (Fawad Choudhry) said that a helicopter consumes fuel of only Rs. 55 per kilometer. Or the prime minister Imran Khan saying that in China they have trains which run at the speed of light. Or the Chief Justice saying that sometimes he made "intentional" mistakes.

The man who reads a lot cannot be brainwashed. Not only in Pakistan, in most other countries, people have stopped reading, perhaps because reading requires a lot of effort. That could be the reason for the radicalization of young people, who are easily influenced by what they're told by those with vested interests. In India, for instance, the rampant killing of Muslims would not be taking place if its people were well-read.

It seems that the future of mankind is bleak. People will remain ignorant and enslaved unless they develop the habit of reading. The few parents who still read books should make their children read regularly. In fact, they should sit with their children and read with them books downloaded on their computers or Ipads or Kindles.

My father often used to tell me about how his Hindu teachers would claim that their ancestors invented the airplane. A few years back, no less a person than Indian Prime Minister Modi said that ancient Hindus were plastic surgeons and one of them had planted the head of an elephant to a human body to create the Hindu god Ganesh. 

Another myth is that the bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka was built by the monkey god Hanuman to help Ram rescue Sita. According to scientists, this submerged bridge (across which people could cross over to either side at low tides about three hundred years ago), has been naturally formed over millions of years. So, when the Congress government decided to make a gap in the bridge to allow vessels to sail from one side of India to the other, Hindu fanatics raised an uproar. In the Supreme Court the Congress said that there was no proof that Ram or Hanuman ever existed. This leads to another interesting question: "If Ram never existed, how do Hindu fanatics say he was born at the place where the Babri Masjid was built?"

Coming back to the incredulous claims by rabid Hindus, a vice chancellor of Andhra Pradesh university said a demon king in the Hindu epic Ramayana had twenty four types of aircraft and a network of landing strips in Sri Lanka. Another illiterate Indian (the education minister of Rajasthan, no less) says, "The cow is the only animal in the world which both inhales and exhales oxygen". 

And now they say that the ancient Hindus also invented stem cell technology. I wonder why they haven't claimed that their ancestors also went to the moon, Mars and other heavenly bodies. I won't be surprised if one of these days they give the exact date when ancient Hindus flew to the moon and landed there.

 

In almost all the "self-help" books I've read, the authors have stressed that to succeed, one has to be born in either a poor family or a lower middle-class one. I've seen the truth of this many times. I have many wealthy relatives, and I've seen that in almost all such families, their sons have been failures. Some of them are able to survive only because they have rented out the properties they've inherited. One relative of mine wakes up at noon, spends the rest of the day gossiping at his club and goes to bed very late at night. Not having a goal has made him lazy, and the only time he walks is when he has to go to the bathroom or when he gets out of his car and walks a few steps to his house or club.
 
Now it's been found that being born in a poor family also ensures that you can be healthier than those born rich. Researchers have concluded that those born in prosperous families are very likely to be at risk of contracting diseases like leukemia, hypertension and diabetes. The rich are also more likely to suffer from allergies. This is due to the fact that babies born in affluent families are protected so much that they do not get infected, particularly in their first year. It seems that the immune system is actually strengthened whenever the body is infected, particularly in babies. Maybe that's one reason why people from Singapore and other healthy societies get sick whenever they visit dirty places like Pakistan, India or Bangladesh.

The most controversial Chief Justice of the country (Saqib Nisar) is due to retire in a couple of weeks. This absolutely unimpressive man did everything he was not supposed to do. Instead of improving the highly corrupt and painfully slow judicial system, he devoted the past couple of years in matters which should not have concerned him. And for this it is doubtful if he will be remembered  by future generations as someone who did anything good for the country. Rather, history will probably say that he did incalculable  harm to Pakistan.

The most inexplicable thing is his obsession with dams. For some reason (perhaps it will become apparent in the near future), he considered the building of dams to be essential for the survival of the country, even though he time and again said that there would be no water (or very little water) in our rivers by 2025.The question naturally arises, if there will be no water, what would the dams be filled with? When people from Sindh said the Kalabagh dam would damage the ecosystem of the province beyond repair, he said he would make opposition to construction of dams a treasonable offence. However, thank God there are sane voices in the country who pointed out that we have enough water in our rivers to sustain us, even if the two mega dams suddenly collapsed. We do not need any mega dams, all we have to do is to repair the linings of our canals, which will prevent leakage and save us water equivalent to more than ten mega dams every year.

Then there is his obvious interference in national politics. He declared a proven liar (Imran Khan) as "sadiq and ameen", despite the latter having fathered an illegitimate girl child and not declaring her as his dependent. For this alone, Imran Khan should have been disqualified from contesting elections. Now that he is prime minister, not a day goes by without Imran Khan making a U-turn, the most recent being his decision to ask the courts to close the Asghar Khan case (which he vociferously demanded to be heard and decided before he formed the government). Saqib Nisar's bias is also evident in the case of Imran Khan's sister (Aleema Khan) who was not asked to provide the money trail to buy foreign property. Instead, she was simply let off with a penalty (instead of being sentenced to a prison term, as happened in the case of Maryam Nawaz).

Then there is the case of Imran Khan's mansion and other properties built where no construction is allowed. Instead of ordering the demolition of Imran's house, the chief justice asked him to "regularize" it, ignoring the fact that thousands of shops and houses belonging to the poor were demolished on the orders of the apex court. Moreover, the government official who opposed the regularization was unceremoniously dismissed from service, a fact that was ignored by the chief justice. It seems there is one law for the rich and powerful, and another for the poor. Malik Riaz, who (according to Saqib Nisar himself) defrauded the nation of a thousand billion rupees, has not been punished, the chief justice has told him to pay half the amount and he will be spared punishment.

So, Justice Saqib Nisar will be remembered only for making a mockery of the law, resulting in Pakistan being the laughing stock of the whole world.


I started writing at an early age (in 1956, when I was 12). My late father used to subscribe to three English morning newspapers, three evening newspapers, the Reader's Digest, Time, Life and Saturday Evening Post (as well as The Times of India and the Indian Express, until these were banned after the 1965 war). He must've spent a fortune on those English periodicals. We also used to get one Gujrati morning newspaper as well as a Gujrati evening newspaper (these were also read by my mother). In addition to all this printed matter, my father would buy a book every week (usually works of fiction, the ones by Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, Erle Stanley Gardner and James Hadley Chase were his favorites). So I spent most of my childhood and teenage years reading avidly.

The Morning News (which went out of business long ago) used to encourage children to write. Since it was printed in East Pakistan as well, it had a wide readership. Once, a cousin of mine submitted a short story, which was printed in my name by error. Perhaps the editor was much more familiar with my name, so he automatically printed the story under mine. Needless to say, I used to scan all three newspapers first thing in the morning to see if any letter or story of mine had been printed. I still do, but not many of my pieces are printed nowadays. About six months back, the editor of DAWN called me and asked me not to contribute so often, as they had to accommodate other (younger) writers as well. I was incredulous, since the letters written by younger writers are full of grammatical mistakes, which the editor or his assistant don't have the time to rectify (they apparently don't care about the negative image this will create among their readers, particularly those in English speaking countries). They simply copy letters from the writers' emails and paste them in their newspapers. How different it used to be in the old days, when I would submit contributions written in longhand, the editor would edit and type them out and then publish them. 

My first article ("A day at the Custom House") was published in DAWN magazine in 1994 or 1995 (a very small piece), for which they paid me Rs. 250 (they later increased the payment to Rs. 500). I was puzzled, as I didn't know they paid unknown writers or beginners. The editor was the late Naushaba Burney, whom I visited a couple of times. I'll never forget the encouraging letter which accompanied the first cheque: "Good luck, and keep on writing", she had concluded. In fact, the new generation of DAWN editors is downright rude, compared to those of other newspapers. In one of my trips to Dubai, I visited the office of Khaleej Times, the editor of which actually thanked me for contributing to his newspaper, and asked me to continue doing so.

So, whenever my friends and relatives ask me why I have stopped writing letters and articles in DAWN, I tell them to read my pieces  in the Tribune and Daily Times. Over the past four years, I've written a lot, which I know most of my friends and relatives have not read and will not read, perhaps because they spend most of their time watching TV or Whattsapp videos. I write not because I love to do so, but also because I want to leave a record of events that happened in my lifetime for future generations (if there are any).