German court rejects suit over Pakistan factory fire

The 2012 Baldia Town factory fire claimed 258 lives and is widely considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters in Pakistan’s history. (Social Media)
Updated 10 January 2019
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German court rejects suit over Pakistan factory fire

  • The blaze was deliberately started and killed 258 people
  • Lack of emergency exits, fire extinguishers and clearly marked escape routes contributed to the fire's heavy toll

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: A German court Thursday threw out a lawsuit by Pakistani plaintiffs against clothing retailer KiK over a deadly 2012 fire at a Karachi garment factory, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

The blaze at the Ali Enterprises factory, which was started deliberately, killed 258 people in one of Pakistan's worst industrial disasters.

A survivor and three relatives of victims had sought damages for pain and suffering from KiK of 30,000 euros ($34,600) each.

They argued that, although KiK did not cause the fire, it shared blame for a lack of safety measures at the factory.

But a spokesman for the regional court in Dortmund said judges agreed with a court-appointed expert's finding that the civil suit was not filed within the applicable two-year period.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based rights group supporting the plaintiffs, said it was considering appealing the ruling.

"KiK was the factory's main customer and therefore bears some of the responsibility for the inadequate fire safety measures," lawyer Remo Klinger, who represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

KiK, which has paid over $6.0 million in compensation to survivors and victims' families, has rejected liability for the fatal fire.

"KiK evades the legal responsibility for the death of 258 people, but at least a German court was willing to look into the case in the first place," said claimant Saeeda Khatoon, whose son died in the inferno.

A lack of emergency exits, fire extinguishers and clearly marked escape routes contributed to the fire's heavy toll, according to experts cited by the ECCHR.

Several men are currently on trial in Pakistan for allegedly starting the blaze. They are suspected of being part of a criminal gang that was extorting the factory' owners.

The fire, along with other fatal incidents at garment factories in low-wage Asian countries in recent years, has fuelled debate about the true cost of cheap, so-called fast fashion.

KiK, a household name in Germany, boasts on its website that it can dress its customers from head to toe "for less than 30 euros".


Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

Updated 23 January 2019
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Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

  • Tax on loans for agriculture, SMEs reduced from 39 percent to 20 percent
  • Economists urge the government to ensure strict implementation of all measures

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Asad Umar on Wednesday presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year in the National Assembly of Pakistan, claiming it would boost investment, manufacturing and exports, and facilitate agricultural financing to promote economic activities in the country.

As opposition lawmakers chanted slogans against the government, the minister said he was presenting an “economic reforms package” to address the needs of the people.

“We are committed to helping deprived segment of the society and it is our constitutional responsibility to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.

The minister also announced that he would present the “Medium Term Economic Framework” in Parliament next week to boost investment, manufacturing and agricultural produce in the country.

Umar said his government had identified four variables to fix Pakistan’s ailing economy. These included: balancing government’s revenues and expenses; increasing exports that recently plummeted from 14 percent of the GDP to 7 percent; encouraging foreign direct investment; and boosting national savings from 10.4 percent which, he added, were the lowest in the world.

To achieve all these targets, he announced to slash tax on small and medium enterprises and agricultural loans from 39 percent to 20 percent, abolish withholding tax on banking transactions for tax filers, and remove import duty on newsprint.

He said that duty on diesel engines for agricultural purposes was also decreased to five percent. Other than that, abolition of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess on fertilizers would help reduce prices of urea for 200 rupees per bag.

After approval of the Finance Supplementary (second amendment) Bill 2019, non-tax filers will be able to purchase cars up to 1300cc, though the tax will be increased for them.

Tax would also be increased on imported vehicles above 1800cc, he said, adding that tax for low priced imported mobile phones would be decreased but remain the same for expensive imported phones.

To promote low-income housing, the minister announced a revolving fund of five billion rupees for interest free loans, while tax on wedding halls up to 500 square feet would be decreased from 20,000 rupees to 5,000 rupees.

The government has also announced a five-year tax exemption on manufacturing of all products related to renewable energy, including solar panels and wind turbines.

The finance minister announced to abolish super tax for non-banking companies and on bids for sports franchises until profitability, while withholding tax on trading in the stock exchange, he said, had also been abolished.

To encourage exports, the minister said that a scheme of promissory notes was being introduced for businessmen and exporters that would help them get concessionary loans from commercial banks.

Criticizing the opposition earlier, the minister accused them of leaving the country indebted with 2,500 billion rupees to 3,000 billion rupees in loans that were not shown in the books.

However, members of the opposition parties were not impressed by the new finance bill.

“There is nothing in this budget that will generate economic activity in the country,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Mohammad Zubair, told Arab News. “The government has announced tax reductions in different fields, but it is yet to be seen how this will affect revenue collection.”

Pakistan Peoples Party’s former finance minister, Saleem Mandviwala, said the budget was just a “plethora of numbers” and there was nothing in it for the common man.

“The government just wanted to show its performance by bringing the mini-budget. But it has badly failed to address the genuine issues of people,” he said while talking to Arab News.

Senior economist, Dr. Athar Ahmad, termed the budget “a step in the right direction,” saying that all these measures were needed to fix the economy.

However, he pointed out that the finance minister had failed to introduce any incentives for booming IT industry and measures to increase tax revenue. “The actual test of the government now is to ensure strict implementation of all the announced measures to achieve the targets,” said Dr. Ahmad.