Monday, March 9, 2009

Citizens deplore new utility tax

KARACHI: Citizens have expressed concerns over the newly imposed utility tax, terming it an additional burden on the masses as the majority of tenants, constituting 40 to 45 percent of city’s entire residential settlements, have been badly hit.
Talking to Daily Times, a number of tenants in various areas of the city said that no authority including the federal government; provincial government or the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) could curb the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities.
A retired government servant, Malik Nisar, said, “The tussle between dairy farmers and the CDGK over milk prices has been going on for the past two years. The dairy farmers have not bowed down and the helpless citizens continue to pay higher prices for milk. If the CDGK can recover the utility tax by force, why can it not do the same with dairy farmers?”
Misbahuddin, a tenant in North Karachi, said, “Except verbal claims and press statements, no party in the city ever produced a rally or held a protest sit-in against the hike in utility tariffs and prices of everyday goods. The imposition of utility tax is a blatant injustice towards the people of the city.”
A primary school teacher in Buffer Zone said, “The collection of the tax and the District Coordination Officer’s warning that the CDGK will take legal action and arrest those who fail to pay the tax was a mere show of autocracy. It is a matter of surprise that the provincial and federal governments are silent on the issue of utility tax imposition and forced collection.”
Meanwhile, a housewife in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town, Block 13-D told Daily Times that the electricity and gas tariffs have already depressed citizens, especially tenants. “The laws pertaining to tenancy have been always in the landlords’ favour. The imposition of utility tax is a tyrannical act. The majority of the people directly affected by the utility tax belong to low-income groups, while the flyovers and parks are for the rich. The rich and the transporters should be asked to pay the tax because they use the roads,” she added.
Another agitated citizen, Qurban Soomro, said that it is the government’s responsibility to provide better civic facilities to its citizens by utilizing the already imposed taxes. “If this trend is allowed, then the government will start imposing taxes for every new development project.” A private health worker, Shaheena, said, “On top of the heavy utility tariffs, skyrocketing prices of transportation and essential items and this newly imposed tax, the KWSB has also increased water tariff by 9 percent.” CDGK Municipal Services Department (MSD) Executive District Officer (EDO) Masood Alam said that the MSD was only assigned to issue utility tax bills. “MSD has dispatched 1.2 million utility tax bills to citizens, thus, it is a 100 percent achievement. However, the recovery is the CDGK Finance Department’s responsibility.”
Replying to a question, Alam said, “There are some ambiguities regarding the residents of flats, as we are in a fix about whether it would be the landlord or the tenant who would pay the tax. In any case, the tenants are liable to pay the tax, while the unions have been taken on board only to serve as CDGK facilitators. The unions would collect utility bills in bulk and they will deliver the bill to the tenant, as the bill carries flat number etc.”
Meanwhile, CDGK Finance Department Executive Director Munawwar Imam said that the recovery target of utility tax is Rs 1.6 billion and the recovery till date is Rs 8.1 million. “There are different categories of taxpayers in terms of area of occupation, ranging from 60 square yards to 2,000 square yards premises. The process of recovery of utility tax is being continued and the target will soon be achieved.”
CDGK City Council opposition leader Saeed Ghani said that the imposition of utility tax was extremely unjust. “CDGK should review the tax because it has created problems for the people of the city. We have always opposed the imposition of utility tax on common citizens. We have often debated that the tax should be imposed only on the corporate sector but it is a pity that those who have earned billions and trillions from this city have been spared, while the tax paying masses have been exposed to this new injustice,” commented Ghani. (Irfan Aligi)