By: Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: Contractors in Gilgit-Baltistan temporarily called off their strike on Tuesday after the government vowed to settle their grievances regarding the withdrawal of rebate on income and other levies in the region.
“We have called it off conditionally for two days,” G-B Contractors Association President Firdous Ahmed told The Express Tribune.“During this period, we hope the matter will be settled by the government as promised.”
He added, “We will resume protests with full dedication if our demands aren’t met.”
Ahmed, who spoke to G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman a day earlier, said the latter assured he would look into the matter.
The end of the boycott will result in the resumption of work at over 400 development schemes initiated by the government across the region.
Earlier, on Monday, contractors protested outside the G-B Chief Minister’s Secretariat. They were joined by political leaders who also demanded the withdrawal of the taxes imposed by the government through the G-B Council, a body chaired by the prime minister.
The protest came a day after the G-B government withdrew a rebate which resulted in an increase in taxes from 3% to 7.5 %. The rebate had been put in place due to the region’s ambiguous constitutional status.
Given the disputed constitutional status of the region, protesters refused to comply with the new order which, in effect, increased the taxes.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Parliamentary Secretary on Law Advocate Aurangzeb Khan said the decision to raise income tax and other levies was taken by the previous government in 2012 through the then G-B Council.
“These are not new taxes” Aurangzeb said. “The government just implemented what the PPP government did during its tenure.” According to the parliamentary secretary, the government would look into options to revert this decision.
“This is a legal issue and I think it can be undone by the forums which enforced it.”
The strike, initiated by the contractors, picked up momentum as political forces including Pakistan Peoples Party jumped on the bandwagon and capitalised on the opportunity to put a thorn in the side of the newly formed PML-N government. However, the contractors’ decision to temporarily call off the boycott disappointed politicians who wanted to settle scores with the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2015.