Chinese CPEC workers arrive in Pakistan despite virus threat

In this file photo, Chinese workers pose for a picture with Pakistani soldiers at a ceremony to open a pilot trade project in Gwadar port on Nov. 13, 2016. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 22 March 2020

Chinese CPEC workers arrive in Pakistan despite virus threat

  • 131 Chinese reached Islamabad Friday morning to work on the corridor projects, 28 more to join
  • Will be kept at an isolation facility in Islamabad for 2-3 weeks, China’s Gezhouba Group official says

ISLAMABAD: More than a hundred Chinese engineers and support staff arrived in Islamabad from Urumqi on Friday morning in a special flight after being kept in isolation for 58 days to avoid contracting the dreaded coronavirus which China has largely managed to contain in the last couple of days.
Despite the disease’s outbreak in Pakistan, China’s Gezhouba Group sent 131 professionals to continue working on infrastructure and energy projects under the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the company’s public relation’s officer in Islamabad confirmed to Arab News.
He added that 28 more Chinese workers were expected to arrive in Islamabad Friday evening.
“The CPEC staff arrived at 9 a.m. today carrying the Pakistani and Chinese flags and raising slogans to display their commitment to the project despite the situation they faced back home or the unfolding situation in Pakistan,” Gezhouba’s Mustafa Kamal told Arab News.
“They were thoroughly examined before travel. They were also screened upon arrival by National Institute of Health officials and will be kept at an isolation facility in sector F-6/1 (of Islamabad) between 14 and 20 days. We have medical staff there and best available equipment from China, and the workers will undergo virus tests again before resuming their duties at project sites,” he added.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Planning offered no comment when reached by Arab News.
According to Kamal, however, his company had apprised the Foreign Office and other relevant government departments of the workers’ arrival.
“The number of Chinese nationals was also reported to the Foreign Office,” he said, adding that all health and safety measures would be applied as the workers perform their duties, and a person with any disease symptoms would be immediately shifted to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.


Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

Updated 54 min 19 sec ago

Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

  • Business community demands reduction in rates and number of existing taxes for the revival of sluggish economy
  • Economists believe revenue collection and locust control will pose major challenges to the government

KARACHI: As Pakistan focuses on simulating growth and job creation in the upcoming federal budget, the country’s business community called for slashing taxes and introducing relief measures to bring the economy out of its sluggish mode while economists predicted that revenue collection would continue to constitute a major challenge for the government.
Pakistan is expected to present its income and expenditure plan for the next fiscal year (FY2020-21) in the coming week, with a focus to spur the economic growth without imposing new taxes.
“The focus of the upcoming budget is to stimulate growth and create jobs. The focus of the [$8 billion] stimulus package is toward providing support to business, in particular [small and medium enterprises] through payroll loans at subsidized rates, deferral of principal and interest payments for one year and quick disbursement of all as refunds to business,” Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, told Arab News last week in an exclusive interview.
He also categorically denied that there would be new taxes in the upcoming budget.
Pakistan’s business community expects that the government will come up with a relief package for the revival of the country’s economy to avoid its further weakening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have proposed that the government should give relief to industries across the board like the one given to the construction industry because it is vital for the revival of the economy,” Agha Shahab Ahmed Khan, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News. “The reforms and recovery will automatically follow.”
Industrialists say the government must focus on the means of creating wealth by adopting appropriate measures and offering suitable incentives such as the ones witnessed in other countries. “If there is no wealth creation, there will be no wealth distribution. This may also lead to social disruption in the country,” the KCCI president said, adding: “We have suggested that sales tax should be brought down to a single digit from 17 percent to spur business activities.”
Industrialists also hope that apart from revising the tax rates, the number of taxes will also be reduced by the government. “We expect that the number of taxes will reduce as part of the ease of doing business initiative under the current circumstances. In Punjab, the government has imposed about 130 different taxes,” Almas Hyder, an industrialist and former president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Arab News.
“The government must expedite the refund process,” she continued, adding: “I say this because this has impacted the cash flow of companies.”
Muhammad Ahmed, President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), concurred with Hyder, saying: “There is no doubt that refunds are being paid, but income tax refunds have not been issued. We should be given permission to adjust that money with the government in the shape of customs duties or sales tax.”
The ICCI president called for measures to make the upcoming budget business-friendly in the prevailing environment.
“The budget should be business-friendly since that will help us make the economy flourish. If new businesses cannot be set up, at least the existing ones that have suffered setbacks should be allowed to survive and sustain in these difficult times,” he added.
As business community demands relief in the upcoming budget, the country’s economists predict that the government is likely to face major revenue constraints due to a decline in the collection rate within the current economic framework. “If you have no income, you will not be able to make expenditures,” Dr. Abdul Qayyum Suleri, member of the government’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News.
“The second major challenge the government is facing is the locust attack which is going to cost the country about Rs 1 trillion in the worst case scenario. If the damage is contained, the loss will be about Rs 250 billion,” he added.
However, Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, who was part of the budget-making process last year since he worked as an adviser with the finance ministry, suggested that the next budget could be crafted with a different approach, keeping in mind resource generation through tax compliance, deficit reduction by curtailing expenditures, and deficit financing by shifting to non-debt creating instruments.
“Shifting the financing of budget to non-debt creating instruments is the only way to flatten the curve on debt build-up. Divestment, past recoveries, collecting dividends from state-owned companies, arrears of taxes and energy, all can contribute in financing the deficit. This can restore the public’s flagging faith in the integrity of the policymakers to break the debt cycle,” he added.
Dr. Suleri said that apart from debt servicing, defense and administrative costs and development expenditure’s additional resources would be required to fund the health sector and locust control operations.
“Pakistan will need about $15 billion of additional borrowing amid remittance, foreign investment and export decline,” he noted while observing: “Two sectors – energy and loss making public sector enterprises – will be under pressure since the International Monetary Fund may object to budget allocations. Increase in salaries and pensions may fall into this category.”
Economists expect that few ongoing development projects will be financed while major share of funds is likely to be diverted to the health sector in the current situation.