Pakistan: Peasants protest hike in oil prices

LAHORE: Farmers held a protest on Thursday (16 February) against the increase in the prices of petroleum products and the sales tax rate on farm inputs, fearing it will enhance their cost of production.

The Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee (PKRC) organised a demonstration against the increases outside the Lahore Press Club. PKRC is a member of La Via Campesina.

Pakistan government had unveiled a mini-budget that carried some highly inflationary measures but spared commercial banks and traders of any new taxes though these could bear the burden the most.

Addressing the demonstration here, the speakers said loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other world lenders were taken by and for army generals, landlords and capitalists, but the poor were being made to repay these loans through heavy taxes. They lamented that there were no taxes on the land mafia but food items had been made more expensive. “How long will poor families continue to suffer for the luxuries of the rich,” they asked.

‘Instead of taxing capitalists, land mafia, mini-budget imposed on people’ PKRC General Secretary Farooq Tariq said, “Instead of taxing the capitalists, taxes worth Rs170bn have been imposed on the common people. The general sales tax (GST) has been increased from 17 to 18pc due to which everything will become expensive and the maximum burden will fall on the poor. We reject this mini-budget”.

Mr Tariq regretted that the taxes were being imposed on the poor but Rs662bn from the privatised K-Electric were not being recovered as the power utility was not paying a single penny to the government since 2018. He demanded immediate takeover of the K-Electric by the government and confiscating its assets to recover the dues. He added that the super-rich had become dirty rich while millions of people of Pakistan were languishing in poverty and struggling to survive because of anti-masses policies of successive governments.

Saima Zia of the PKRC said “We know we have been left with no option but to protest. And we also know that there is a real need for a system change. What could be more unfortunate than that during the Covid pandemic, we were stuck in the quest for survival, the profits of the rich increased historically”.

She said the time had come to impose new taxes like super tax on rich capitalists and industrialists so that billions of rupees could be obtained to spend on the public welfare.

“We need to impose a wealth tax so that the political power of the rich can be controlled,” said Riffat Maqsood.

“Having a few people with wealth is eroding our democracy and the common people’s faith in the political process,” she said.

Excerpted from an article published in Dawn, dated 17 February 2023