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LAHORE: Speakers at a convention have pledged to put the "incompetent" and "inept" Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to task if Section 203-A of the Finance Act 2021-22 is not repealed which empowers the assistant commissioners to check businesses of traders without any prior notice and put them behind bars on "flimsy grounds".

The moot, which was organized by the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) at a local hotel on Friday, was attended by all major bodies and associations of traders from across Punjab.

While severely criticizing "black sheep" in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the PTI government for describing traders as "smugglers" in the recently-passed laws, the traders warned that they would hold protest demonstrations across the country if section 203-A was not repealed and they were given their "due respect".

In his opening address, FPCCI Senior Vice-President Khuwaja Shahzaib Akram said that before the budget 2021-22 they held negotiations with Shaukat Tareen (incumbent finance minister), Abdul Razaq Dawood, Prime Minister Imran Khan and even Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and informed them about the issues of the business community, particularly small traders.

He said the aforementioned people had assured them of providing relief but when the budget details emerged after its passage, most of the things were against the promises. He said that a major chunk of the country's revenue is collected from the business community but if the humiliation and harassment is continued under such laws then the government would face a difficult situation.

According to Khuwaja, the FPCCI and the government had agreed in principle that additional custom duty and the double taxation will be abolished. However after the passage of the budget, the government introduced sections 236-H and 236-G under which 11 industries were made withholding agents, instead of giving this target to 28,000 employees of the FBR.

He said if the government really wanted to stop smuggling then it should tighten measures at borders, not at the premises of traders. "Under the new laws, officials of the customs and other departments can inspect shop and any establishment of a retailer and sought GD (goods deed) which is condemnable," he added. "We want to pay taxes but first repeal these laws otherwise nothing would work out."

Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President Tariq Misbah said that categorically clarified that they would not accept section 203-A under any condition and will do whatever it takes to repeal it by the government. He said the finance act was totally different from the announcements made by Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen in his budget speech.

"This government backtracked from its promises time and again," he regretted, adding that new taxes of about Rs 16 billion have been imposed on the business community. He said the government by manipulating facts claimed that more than 300,000 people have been entered into the tax net. He said these people are filers not tax payers and there's a huge difference in this. "We are tax payers and we will see how this government will not repeal these laws," he added.

Former LCCI President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh blasted the government and the FBR saying that "Pakistan's most corrupt department is FBR". "If any trader is arrested then we will be extending the same treatment to the FBR officials," he declared, generating a big applause from the audience.

He said they all are united to give a befitting response to the FBR officials in case they opted to arrest any trader or subjected him to humiliation or harassment. "We will not let them do anything that destroyed self-respect of a businessman," he vowed.

He said they had signed two memorandum of under standings (MoUs) one with the FBR chairman and the other with former Finance Minister Shabbar Zaidi to reduce withholding tax from 1.5 to 0.5 percent but that could not be materialized.

"People are doing businesses with 1 percent withholding tax while the government is charging at 4.5 to 5 percent," he said, regretting that the attitude of the government is itself "shameful". "When you (government) failed to fulfill your promises, you labeled us "smugglers"; shame on you," he added.

Traders of many other major associations including All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajran President Ashraf Bhatti and Mall Road Traders Association President Sohail Butt also spoke on the occasion and demanded the government to repeal the aforementioned sections from the laws.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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