The traders are observing a nationwide strike against the imposition of 0.3 per cent withholding tax (WHT) on banking transactions on Saturday (today). Goods transporters have also announced to fully back today’s shutter down call of All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran Khalid Pervaiz Group.

The countrywide shutter down was already held on Aug 1 (last Saturday) on the call of another faction of the All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran, led by Naeem Mir, against the undue taxation measures of the government.

The Khalid Pervaiz’s faction had also observed a strike at the end of Ramazan (in July) when it successfully closed down wholesale markets of Punjab against the imposition of the WHT. Their successful strike compelled the government to revisit its decision. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, after that strike, held a meeting with traders in which the withholding tax was halved but was not revoked fully. However, the said group of traders had refused to accept the government’s decision and had given a countrywide strike call for August 5.

Khalid Pervaiz has declared that the country will see another historic shutter down on Wednesday. He said his group is being supported by transporters organizations, Karachi’s major trade bodies and Balochistan’s whole business community. He informed that traders of Balochistan did not observe shutter down on last Saturday and announced to close market on Aug 5. He claimed that more than 50 trade bodies have announced to join the shutter down on August 5 (today).

Several industrial and trade association have also announced their support for today’s strike, including the All Pakistan Textile Processing Mills Association, Pakistan Industrial & Traders Associations Front, Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, All Pakistan Truck Trala Motors Association and All Pakistan Business Forum.

In a related development, All Pakistan Truck Trala Motors Association yesterday announced to observe countrywide wheel-jam strike against withholding tax (0.3 per cent) and Punjab services tax (16 per cent) today. “Truck stands at Bund Road, Ravi Road, Sabzazar Circular Road, Sarai Sultan, Sheranwala Akbari Mandi and Shah Aalmi in Lahore will remain closed for booking and transportation of goods. Besides, there will be a wheel-jam of goods transport all over the country,” said association’s president Lala Naseer and general secretary Abdul Mateen Sheikh while talking to journalists after a meeting. The transporters will also take out a rally in protest against the imposition of new taxes from Ravi Road Sabzi Mandi Truck Stand to Lahore Press Club today. They warned government of resistance if they were not allowed to take out “peaceful rally.”

In a similar development, All Pakistan Business Forum President Ibrahim Qureshi has endorsed the traders’ stance on 0.3% WHT on banking transactions, persuading the government to withdraw this tax to avoid any confrontation. He urged the government to at least exempt all filers from 0.3 per cent withholding tax, as it would encourage non-filers to come into the tax net and government would achieve its all targets aimed at expansion of tax net.

“There should be no withholding tax for the filers as they are already performing their national obligation with honesty,” he said. This is a double taxation which is bound to hit the trade and industry hard. The government should understand that protests and strikes always hit the economic activities hard therefore this tax should be withdrawn immediately in the larger interest of the economy. He said that the APBF was with all the trade and industrial associations against this imposition of tax on bank transactions. He further said that all business-related decisions should be taken in consultation with the stakeholders as being done in the developed countries.

Meanwhile, Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Ijaz A. Mumtaz said that strikes would cause undue damage to the economic activities and hit the government efforts aimed at progress and prosperity of the country hard. He said that government would have to solve the issue through negotiation to deter the traders from more strikes.

On the other hand, the other group of APAT, led by Naeem Mir, which has already shown its strength on last Saturday, is not supporting today’s strike because he says unsuccessful strike will damage the cause of traders’ community, which has already observed a successful shutter down from Khyber to Karachi on Aug 1.

In Karachi, addressing a press conference at Karachi Press Club, Aitque Mir, chairman of All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, said that all major markets have announced to back today’s shutter down strike call of AKTI.

He said that 500 markets which have announced to remain closed on 5th of August included Sadder, Tariq Road, Car Dealers Association, Clifton Defense Property Dealers, Old City Area, Hajji Camp, electronics Market, Gul Plaza, Plaza Spare Parts, Sindh Auto Parts market, Timber Market, Iron and Steel Market, Karachi Furniture Dealers Group, Garden Oil Market, Bohra Pir, Liaqat Abad, MA Jinnah Road, Nursery and Old City.

Under the banner of AKTI, traders also took out the rally from Mazar-i-Quaid to Press Club via Tower. Attique said there is no option to talk over the issue with government till the end of levy.

He said that government should avoid coercive measures for tax collection and make efforts to expand tax net in consultation with all stakeholders including business leaders of the country. Mir made it clear that the traders would not hold any dialogue with the government on the issue.

In Islamabad, Central Union of the Traders on Tuesday decided not to observe strike today (August 5). Addressing a press conference, President of Central Union of the Traders Kashif Chaudary said that traders would devise the future strategy of strikes after the consultations against the withholding tax on the banking transactions. The traders of Sindh and Balochistan would observe strike today (Tuesday), as businessmen of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa closed their businesses on August 1,” he remarked.

“Prime Minister should intervene in the matter, otherwise traders will jam the country through sit-ins, strikes and protests”, Kashif Chaudary warned. He further said that traders would besiege the parliament if government does not withdraw the withholding tax. The government through a conspiracy had created divide among the traders, he added.

He was of the view that government had imposed withholding on the direction of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Ministry of Finance and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) have no role in it. The Prime Minister should consider the concerns of the business community on this important issue, he remarked.

President of Central Union of the Traders said that entire business community had rejected the withholding tax on the banking transactions. The FBR had imposed this indirect tax, as it failed to improve the direct taxes. The investors are taking their investment out of the country after imposition of withholding tax on the banking transaction, he added.

In the past, traders had observed a countrywide successful shutter-down during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government when it had introduced the General Sales Tax (GST) for the first time in late 1990s. This time again, the PML-N-led government’s announcement has united the business community, traders and all trade bodies on a single-point agenda of withdrawal of imposition of 0.3pc WHT.

Due to the government decision, a parallel undocumented economy has started growing in the country. Banking transactions have registered a sharp decline, especially in commercial areas of Lahore.