Signs of an ultimate passage of the RGST Bill by Parliament are becoming increasingly visible, tending to confirm the official position that all provincial governments had, in fact, given their approval to the legislation at a meeting held some time ago. As the bill crosses its first hurdle, with unanimous endorsement by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the hue and cry that the opposition parties have been raising to demonstrate their people-friendly attitude has turned out to be just an attempt to play to the gallery. In the meantime, intriguing developments have taken place. Ruling coalition partners, the ANP and the JUI(F), which had earlier opposed the Bill, now have made their support conditional on the acceptance of certain changes. The Chairman of the Standing Committee, Senator Ahmed Ali (MQM), a strong opponent of the RGST, could not make it to Pakistan since his flight was delayed for five hours for unknown reasons, leaving open the question why Senator Islamuddin Shaikh, also of the MQM, who chaired the meeting, did not oppose it. Speculations are rife in political circles that the Bill would, no doubt, come in for severe criticism when it is debated by Parliament. However, at the time of voting, most opponents, it is felt, would opt for a boycott of the session, rather than cast a negative vote. Thus, the government would have little difficulty in pushing the legislation through, since its passage needs a simple majority of parliamentarians present and voting. With the media free and alive to the situation, the opposition parties had better reflect on the consequences of their sham criticism for their standing in the public before they decide to abstain from voting. It must be acknowledged, though, that while giving their nod to the proposed taxation measure, some Committee members tagged their recommendations to it. They include exemption from the RGST on all food items, whether canned or open, locally produced medicines and books and stationery items. Their acceptance, however, would depend how forcefully and seriously the opposition parties, which have made them, stress their necessity in the context of the hardship that people are experiencing because of the runaway inflation. It should be remembered that there is nothing unusual in these proposals; in the UK, foodstuff, medicines and education stand exempt from VAT, which is what the RGST in fact is. The Committee also voted for the Flood Surcharge, with the proviso that the taxable income should be Rs 500,000 and not Rs 300,000 and excise duty. While Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikhs contention that taxes have to be raised to meet the IMF requirement is not disputed, he sidesteps the demand for bringing the rich agriculturalists and other sectors of the economy that remain untapped under pressure of vested interests. The government should know that the people, already shouldering the burden of the backbreaking price hike, cannot take further load.