Italy’s Pakistanis come out to help as coronavirus toll keeps climbing

A volunteer hands out a protective face mask to a woman in the Trastevere district, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Rome, Italy, April 02, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Italy’s Pakistanis come out to help as coronavirus toll keeps climbing

  • Among those struggling under severe restrictions are over 100,000 Pakistanis based mainly in and around Milan, Bergamo and Brescia
  • The Pakistani community has sprung into action to collect donations, distribute food and raise awareness through online campaigns

MONZA: Dr. Manzoor Ahmed Chaudhry’s phone has been ringing off the hook since February when a novel coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 13,000 people in Italy first broke out.
As the counsel general of Pakistan in Milan, Chaudhry has become the de facto contact person for Italy’s 100,000 Pakistanis, struggling under strict curbs on movement and business activities introduced nationwide on March 9 and expected to remain in place until at least the Easter holidays in mid-April.
“Either the phone rings all day, or I am on social media, answering questions, making clarifications,” Chaudhry told Arab News this week. 
Some people call wanting to know how they can flee Italy, the diplomat said; others plead to be ‘rescued’ from Italian towns as far as the border with Austria. There are so many calls that Chaudhry has at times asked his wife to speak to distressed callers and calm them down.
The Western European country accounts for around 30 percent of all global deaths from the highly infectious respiratory disease, with fatalities climbing by 760 to 13,915 on Thursday, the Civil Protection Agency said. 
Chaudhry said he could not provide an official number for how many Pakistanis had been killed in Italy but estimated that 150 were infected and 10 had died due to coronavirus. 
Last month, the Pakistan foreign office said one Pakistani national had passed away from the virus in Brescia, about 100 kilometers from Milan. There have been no subsequent statements from the foreign office on Pakistanis infected or killed by the illness. 
But as the virus continues to ravage Italy, many Pakistanis have sprung into action to collect donations, distribute food and raise awareness through online campaigns.




Pakistani community of Carpi donates money to the local hospital, Capri March 30, 2020. (Supplied by Comune Di Carpi)

Chaudhry Shahid Nazeer Gujjar, a prominent Pakistani-Italian, has set up a 250-member strong Whatsapp group to keep community members informed during the outbreak and coordinate relief efforts. With the economy in lockdown, he now connects affluent and enterprising Pakistanis with more vulnerable members of the community. Money is transferred to the needy online or through agencies like Western Union, Gujjar said. 
The lockdown has also seen social media pages come alive with videos by Pakistanis that offer advice on everything from how to save money on groceries to studying for driving tests from home. Live broadcasts by good samaritans take questions about how to get the authorization forms needed to leave home under lockdown rules, how to receive a bonus from the government and how to qualify for food vouchers.
Younger Pakistanis have been at the forefront of the community’s response efforts. Saad Alam, originally from Nowshera and a student and part time model in Turin, has been active with an association in the Piemonte region that has been reaching out to community members in the Pashto and Urdu languages, and keeping Pakistanis up to date about changes in the law. Mosques and various Pakistani associations have also stepped in to deliver food directly to people’s homes.
But Pakistanis are not only helping their own. Irfan Hayat Ranjha, a well-connected Pakistani, said he was approached by a group of young Pakistanis from a small town called Carpi who wanted to donate funds to a local hospital. 
“Within six days of launching an appeal among our people, we collected over 10,000 euros that we have now donated to a hospital in Carpi,” Ranjha said. The local paper carried a picture of the young Pakistanis wearing masks and standing with the mayor of Carpi, handing the donation over to the hospital.
Indeed, for many Pakistanis, reasserting a new identity as responsible members of society is part of the motivation for lending a helping hand.
“This was our way of changing the headlines and seeing the words ‘comunità Pakistana’ [Pakistani community] being written with pride,” Ranjha said.
It was in this spirit that Iram Tahir, the first Pakistani woman elected as a town councilor in the Brescia area, wrote to the Pakistani prime minister and requested that doctors and nurses be sent to Italy as a gesture of goodwill. 
In a statement on its website last week, the Italian foreign affairs ministry said Pakistan would donate 500,000 tablets of chloroquine, a medicine which has helped alleviate coronavirus symptoms in some patients.
“The situation there [in Pakistan] is not as bad as here,” Tahir said. “In Brescia alone, 300 doctors have been infected. This is a country in need. They will never forget who helped in this tough time.”


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

Updated 06 June 2020

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 stimulating growth and creating jobs 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.