The government forced through on Thursday two legislations on amnesty for tax evaders and privatisation of the national airline despite the opposition’s protests and walkouts. For the most part of the session, the National Assembly conducted itself like a shouting match between the treasury and the opposition as the two controversial bills were introduced. There were walkouts and tearing of papers, but the majority party stuck though.

On January 1, the prime minister had unveiled a new amnesty scheme, allowing traders to legalise their ‘black money’ by paying a nominal one per cent tax on it. The bill proposes that traders can whiten their undeclared working capital of up to Rs50 million. The non-filers will be those traders who did not file any income tax return over the past 10 years… ten years of black money so easily whitewashed. The least they could have done was put a higher tax. The traders availing themselves of the scheme will be exempted from audit for four years and no question will be asked about their sources of income. The scheme is unfair as many people have been paying taxes for years with no respite, yet non-filers and avoiders get to have laws made especially for them to cajole them into the fold. The business classes have always had a good deal given to them by the state. Maybe the opposition should have been given some room to discuss this one, as the legislation seems hurried and in the benefit of a select few. Widening the tax net is a worthy goal, but not at the expense of letting tax avoiders and black marketers getting away with their activities.

The privatisation of PIA however was a foregone conclusion and legislation should have been passed much sooner. PIA is a massive drain on the budget. It cannot be subsidised any longer considering the governments need to manage the fiscal deficit and divert funds to more productive spending. The argument that it should not be sold on nationalist grounds is preposterous, so is the argument that we need the carrier to be nationally owned so that non-profit making routes can continue and people can have equal access to transport. Firstly, even the non-profit making routes are used only by elites. Secondly, buses and trains are also viable options. It makes sense to subsidise and support Pakistan railways, as many people use trains. An airline service should not be subsidised and rewarded for its failure to generate revenue.