ISLAMABAD (APP) - Share prices of cement companies have come down by up to 90 per cent with the consumption of the commodity in the local market showing a negative growth of nearly 16 per cent during the last six months compared to the same period last year. Industry analysts apprehend further decline in the consumption of cement in view of the rationalisation of the public sector development programme and a general slow down in the construction activity across the country. When asked to comment on the situation, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturers Association listed a number of factors for the crisis facing the industry. Enhanced cost of bank borrowing, high taxation, shortage of electricity and gas have combined in affecting the industry. The spokesman claimed that cement was a highly capital intensive industry. Therefore, most of the units were under heavy debt and they are finding it difficult to service such expensive loans. The spokesman maintained the gas shortage and the load management, which force the industry not to operate its plants between 4:00pm to 10:00pm caused further problems. Shortage of gas also hamper the plants from generating their own electricity. Referring to the taxation on cement, the spokesman claimed it was the highest in the region. Presently, tax on a bag of cement amounts to Rs96 of which Rs45 is the excise duty, he remarked. He regretted that although cement was a key component for the infrastructure development and also for small-scale housing, it was being treated as a luxury item for the purpose of tax and duties. The spokesman expressed the hope that the govt will come to the rescue of the industry through abolition of excise duty on cement, SBP's intervention regarding the interest rate for the cement sector and restoration of the public sector development programme, which was the engine of growth in any developing country. The spokesman said the cement industry provided direct and indirect employment to millions of people in the country and deserves all round support. The spokesman for the Pakistan Cement Manufacturers Association appealed to the government to intervene and help in the withdrawal of non-tariff barriers imposed by India in violation of the SAARC agreement. Under the existing circumstances, the export of cement was critical not only for enhanced export earnings for Pakistan but also to prevent the plants from operating below their capacity which not only affected their profitability and resultant inability to service their debts but also threatened loss of jobs.