Tax proposed to cope with flood crisis

KARACHI: President Asif Ali Zardari proposed on Sunday that a one-time flood tax be levied on urban property and agricultural land not affected by the flood.

According to sources, the idea was discussed at a special meeting of the Sindh cabinet held to assess the flood damage, ahead of a meeting of the Council of Common Interests convened in Islamabad on Monday. The meeting is likely to be dominated by conflicting claims of losses submitted by the federating units.

The provincial cabinet meeting was jointly presided over by President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The source quoted the president as saying that it would be difficult to cope with the national tragedy “unless we mobilise our own resources” for the purpose.

He advised the Sindh government to generate $1 billion from its own sources and promised to repay the province 10 times more than its contribution.

The president said it would be difficult to generate such an amount, but a mechanism of levying a one-time flood tax on urban and agricultural land not affected by the floods could help in speedy reconstruction.

He suggested that in big cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Nawabshah, there should be a cess of Rs100,000 on a plot of 1,000 square yards and Rs50,000 on 500 square yards, the sources said.

He said that owners of land on the left bank of the Indus which had not been affected could also be asked to pay a one-time cess for rebuilding the ravaged areas in the province.

According to the sources, ministers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said they would give their point of view on the proposal after discussing it in their party’s coordination committee.

Prime Minister Gilani said a commission should be set up to hold an inquiry into breaches in embankments.

The meeting decided to improve coordination among different agencies engaged in relief work at the federal and provincial levels.

Presentations were given by the irrigation department and the disaster management authority on the flood situation and damage.

According to the sources, preliminary estimates of loss in the province were around Rs550 billion, excluding Thatta and the downstream delta area. The loss to the irrigation system was estimated at Rs52 billion, they said.

Talking to journalists after the meeting, the prime minister said the CCI would help improve coordination among the agencies and departments concerned.

He said the Sindh chief minister would hold discussions with officials of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and relief agencies.

“We have frozen our development budget to last year’s level to create resources for helping the flood-affected people,” he said.

Replying to a question, he said the CCI would decide about payments to affected families before Eid.

The prime minister said Sindh had suffered a minimum loss of lives because it was prepared to handle the situation.

He said the provincial government had made preparations for rescue operations in flood-hit areas, but unwillingness of people to leave their homes had created some problems.

He said the federal government and its institutions, including the armed forces, had done a wonderful job in rescue and relief work.

However, the floods were of such a magnitude that no country could cope with the destruction on its own, he said.

He said the province was getting maximum medical facilities and a field hospital donated by the Saudi government had been set up in Thatta.

“I have also handed over the Railways Hospital to the Sindh health department and offered the services of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences to the province.”

The prime minister said he had ordered aerial spray in flood-hit areas and immunisation of all affected people to minimise the chances of any epidemic.

Replying to a question, he said the date of a planned all-party conference would be announced after consultation with parties.

The prime minister condemned the recent suicide attacks in Lahore and Quetta and said: “I have asked the interior minister to immediately visit Balochistan to prepare a strategy to combat terrorism in the province.”  – Dawn