The US President Barrack Obama, during his inaugural speech in 2009 said, "The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."

Very few people understood the rationale behind his presidential speech, however; on my way to an ethnic French restaurant downtown his words hit me with full force. En route to our favorite leisure places, most of us barely think about the amount of money we would spend in one evening and the fact that it might be a lot more than what most people make in Pakistan after working hard for a month. Neither do we think twice before paying for our entertainment, whereas when most of us hire domestic help or other helpers such as plumbers and gardeners for housekeeping, we negotiate the cheapest possible rates.

It is very unfortunate that many amongst us do not even understand the basic concept of minimum wage and why is it set by the government. The current minimum wage rate — which is estimated to be around Rs 8,000 — was set to safeguard the interest of laborers who are unable to fight for their rights and demand a decent sum of money for the work they do. However, the minimum wage requirement is sidetracked because neither do the poor daily wage earners and domestic workers have any knowledge about such economic policies neither do we, as their employers, ensure that the policy is strictly followed.

Most of us conveniently blame politicians for hoarding or swindling money and transferring them to Swiss bank accounts, however, we do not realise that we are no better than them. Do we think about the welfare of the people we employ? If we will not give them the opportunity to earn as much as they deserve how can we expect them to do justice to their work? Do we ever think about the people who earn daily wages and lose a substantial amount of their monthly income because of the violent strikes and shutdowns in various cities?

Most of us work and every year we demand our respective employers to evaluate our performance. Some of us even fight with our immediate supervisors for a raise, however, very few of us think about giving an increment to our servants. Or is it just because we assume that the affects of price hikes only apply to us?

There is a pertinent need for our society to understand that taking advantage of their predicaments is not only against the principles of basic human rights but also has severe repercussions on the economy. We fail to understand that by not paying labour at par or above the minimum set wage, we consciously push the poor to become poorer in an economy where the rich keep getting richer — negating the whole idea of equal distribution of wealth.

It is ironic that the richest and most resourceful people in our country misuse the state policies the most. It is an established fact that many people belonging to the ruling class, entertainment business and other industries either evade taxes or pay a meager amount which does not correspond to their annual income. Recent statistics compiled by National Database and Registration Authority has revealed that an estimated number of 2.38 million Pakistanis who are ‘rolling’ in wealth do not pay taxes at all.

What these rich people fail to realise is that when they evade taxes, they deprive the poor from gaining access to the basic amenities of life. If rich people pay taxes in accordance with the current tax mandate, the state would have access to more funds which will not only help generate employment but also assist in revising and eventually increasing the minimum wage rate. The most astounding fact is that many Pakistanis belonging to the elite section of the society — who consider themselves above the law — can afford to pay twice as much as the tax they are liable to pay, however, still fail to do so out of sheer greed and disregard for civic values.

One of our former prime ministers, perhaps without realising the consequences of his words, took the tax debate to the next level. Whilst talking on a television show on a private news channel he proposed a policy entailing a uniform tax rate of 10 per cent to be imposed on everyone in Pakistan regardless of how much money they make. His proposition evidently favored the rich business community and people at the uppermost echelon of the corporate ladders with complete disregard to the welfare of middle income household who would get decimated if such a policy is ever imposed by the Federal Board of Revenue. Being the owner of several sugar mills, the former prime minister was clearly trying to increase his disposable income without holistically thinking about the masses.

Most of us, including some renowned politicians, talk about turning Pakistan into a welfare state but do we even know what it takes to actually become one? A welfare state works on many principles and one of the most essential components of such a framework entails the government undertaking responsibility to protect the well-being of its citizens by paying special attention to those under financial duress. How do we expect the government to play this role without our help? The state cannot generate funds on its own to help the poor. The state needs our support and the day we all realise this, Pakistan will automatically become a welfare state where every individual will have equal rights and opportunities.

It is time for each one of us to understand the repercussions of having a myopic approach towards life. We must join hands to help the suffering masses in our own capacity.

 


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com


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Comments (40) (Closed)


AHA
Nov 20, 2012 01:02pm
The only people who pay their taxes fairly in Pakistan are the salaried class people working in the ‘no kick-back’ jobs. These are the educated, including many highly educated and highly talented, people who should have been the real assets of Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan offers them the worst deal when it comes to taxing their incomes, among other things. No wonder Karachi pays nearly 70% of income taxes of the whoel of Pakistan. I am sure Karachi and Lahore put together would be contributing around 90% or more of the income tax collected in Pakistan. These two cities are the hub for the highly educated, highly intellectual, but mostly middle class people of Pakistan.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 22, 2012 12:08am
Living at the poverty line is one thing; living below the poverty line is another.
DharmendraGoel
Nov 20, 2012 10:16am
Ms FaizaMirza hasstruck a very positive impacton my conceitof ourSubcontinental middle-class Allergy to providedecent livingWage to underclass. we allarevery eloquentaboutSwiss inborgliosandscamsthatare constantly disfigure public Domain. Yes, this is true, butdo wethe chatteringclassesever think to support theworkingpeople with effective sufficentWagesandnot theleast we can press hardpressed labourersto work for? Ms Faizahasit appears avery noble moral disposition and we mustappreciate her advocacy oflabouring class interest full -throatedly D. g.
Tanweer
Nov 26, 2012 01:08pm
Of what use is this money/assett, when in the same world there are people who cannot afford a two time meal.
Sue Sturgess
Nov 20, 2012 04:38am
Am I the only one who thinks it is strange that the "affluent west" does not have domestic servants? The average western household cannot afford a "servant", because everyone must be paid a legal minimum. This is how countries become affluent.
Skaukat Farooq
Nov 20, 2012 05:36am
I salute Faiza Mirza for highlighting the a national tradegy.There is no excuse to doing your part of good for the county your motherland your identity in front of the world.Every one of us has a duty to cotribute to the maxium for the welfare of our nation by being honest to our conscious where no authority can reach to investigate except your own self.We must pay our due without waiting for immediate rewards.they will follow as stealing has a limit.
dkg
Nov 19, 2012 01:00pm
very well written and just article !! Thanks Faiza!!
Clear thinker
Nov 19, 2012 11:39pm
Faiza, clearly you have no idea about economics. If domestic helps are paid too less, they also are quickest to leave and find another work isnt that right ? Minimum wage is the biggest reason why so many ppl are unemployed in developing countries such as USA. This leftist economic model is what is behind the current european crises. Pakistan in 1960's became economically prosperous by following America's capitalist model, which says, if you work hard you will pull yourself out of poverty and give others jobs. Redistribution of income through high govt taxes leads to high corruption, large wastage. Same money in people's hands will lead to more investment and create new jobs for ppl. This is most efficient way for use of limited capital and redistribution of income through private sector. ----To summarize - Domestic helps will go to Hotel Industry to find better jobs if everyone was spending on expensive vacations. Watch some Milton Friedman videos on youtube.
Wali Mohammad
Nov 21, 2012 07:11am
May this kind of approach come to each and every mind and implement the same.
Daniyala Naeem
Nov 21, 2012 10:40am
We spent thousands of rupees on branded clothing and accessories, also on our entertainment and don't think about the poor. I think a person who earns Rs. 50k per month should give or spent 500 or 1,000 Rupees for the poor and needy people. It can make the difference.
Sajjad
Nov 21, 2012 02:36am
Minimum wages works in placees that provide life basics like education, water, electricity, gas etc. what use is min wages when you have to spend that meager amount trying to cover basics which is a right of every human being and which must be provided by the state. even if we were paying min wages, with a family of 4-5 how sustainable is it. with prices doubling in 4-5 years with salary increase not at all in par with this the value of min wages become irrelevant. what we need is for state to provide basics at all costs and then to work towards other issues. we as a nation have ensured that poor either die trying to elevate their status or resort to unfair means to survive ... they just dont have a choice
hakunamatata
Nov 19, 2012 07:59pm
Any blotch on Pakistan's image and the sooth sayers point out "it applies equally to India", you really think so? Pakistan'e economy, image, democracy all are down the drain and that does not apply equally to India..then how come all causes of Pakistan's devastation apply equally to India when the implications are so different. Wake up, Pakistan is hopeless now..
PThind
Nov 20, 2012 10:24pm
@hakunamatata....These social problems apply equally to India if not worse. Have you ever been to India or Pakistan.?
Shri
Nov 20, 2012 06:57pm
I agree with the author as far as minimum wages are concerned. It is state's duty to protect the weak and underprivilaged. These views should not make me socialist. I am in favour of free economy with controls. Allowing rich to multiply money with their business acumanship is OK but Govt must extract taxes proportionate to the gains made by the rich and fund health and education for all. Don't corporates need educated workforce and healthy consumers to buy their products and services? Of course they do. Those who criticize minimum wages must think of childern of the poor people if they believe poor are poor because they dont want to work. Other related thing is the political class and implications of the decisions they make. It is time we stop complaining if we dont go and vote. The day when middle class goes to polling booths and start voting the winds of change will start blowing. If you dont vote, don't complain.
hakunamatata
Nov 20, 2012 05:46pm
@joki81: If you are from Europe then you should say nothing at all. Your countries are smaller than our football fields and your problems are bigger than the entire continent. You are neck deep in debt, you grow nothing but potatoes, you do can't go one step without calling the US your ally and we treat you like a puppet and dragged you into this "war on terrorism". For your enlightenment I am from US and we built your continent after the world war. If I were you I'd be caring more about getting the EU's economy straightened.
hakunamatata
Nov 20, 2012 05:39pm
and have you heard about the milions of people in Pakistan who never even lived because they were blown up by suicide bombers?
sam ibrahim
Nov 20, 2012 05:00pm
'Exploitation of the working poor is not one of the problem in Pakistan'! Really, ok, you have not visited Pakistan but do you not read the news? Matter of fact, what was the essence of this article? Perphas, you can read but you do not understand! There's an old saying - 'It's better to keep your mouth shut and let others think you're a genius than to open it and remove all doubts' try practicing it!
AHA
Nov 20, 2012 04:22pm
Raika lives in Malaysia or Singapore (can't remember exactly which). We are looking at two extremes, Pakistan vs Singapore. She is blessed, no doubt.
hakunamatata
Nov 21, 2012 04:32pm
@PThind: (1) scroll up to my first comment, read it again, I guess you did not do that (2) I am in India for the last 5 years on business, I have not been to Pakistan and would not go there for any accident, that country is not very safe and I want to live longer
AHA
Nov 19, 2012 02:31pm
Economically, Pakistan has always been an unfair country. It favors the rich both legally (through the tax regime on agricultural income) and through accepting and encouraging the underground economy through periodic tax reliefs. In fact, the term ‘underground economy’ to describe the ‘outside the legal framework’ economy does not suit the Pakistan set up. That economy is very much above ground and clearly visible to all in Pakistan. The only factor that is enabling this unfair economic system to survive is the inability of its people to think clearly and to have their priorities right. The powers to be ensure that the people are busy in slogans and strife, and are never able to pay attention to the real issues.
Sohrab
Nov 19, 2012 03:20pm
No there is no accountablity in Pakistan. That is why the judiciary is willingly or unwillingly pulled into the executive domain. But hey if there is no checks on the indirect taxes collected by the government there is none for the people either who refuse to pay their share of taxes. What goes around comes around. That is why I commented evolution of government (and its people, mind you) in a democratic setup is the best choice to move forward.
Keti Zilgish
Nov 19, 2012 02:42pm
Platformism became obsolete with the end of the USSR. What you are recommending is that Pakistanis have no other destiny than to make love to a dead woman!
Keti Zilgish
Nov 19, 2012 02:57pm
I wonder whether the indirect taxes the state collects can be accounted for to the people?
Ali
Nov 19, 2012 04:01pm
lets not forget that poor generously reciprocate by procreating profusely. Self destruction runs up and down the hierarchy without a mustard seed worth of balance.
Faqi
Nov 19, 2012 04:01pm
Nothing can happen without a fair accountability structure. There is no guarantee that direct and indirect taxes paid by people are fairly used. Strict Accountability is required to examine both the tax evaders and government's use of tax money.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 19, 2012 04:42pm
When Indian and Pakistani rich pay household help a wage they can live on we can be assured it is The Last Days and the Final Judgement.
akhter husain
Nov 20, 2012 08:35am
Have you not heard or read any thing about four million people in India are living below the poverty line where as only handful rich can buy states.Thank God we are better in this respect.and have not squeezed our people that much.
joki81
Nov 19, 2012 01:04pm
Very good article, as I have come to expect from the author. It applies equally to India and the western countries, the United States more so than Europe. No country can maintain social peace without maintaining at least limiting the inequality of wealth. That is one of the main reasons the US leads the world in incarceration rate. In Europe, the most peaceful societies are the Scandinavian countries, because of all that "socialism" the American Republicans lambast at every opportunity.
I. A. Siddiqui
Nov 20, 2012 07:31am
The tax collected by very small number of tax payers is spent where? Can any tax payer in Pakistan believe that it is spent on welfare of people of Pakistan? It is the poor governance which cannot catch hold of tax evaders & dodgers, whereas what ever is collected from direct & indirect taxes is spent on ruling elite instead on people.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 21, 2012 10:44pm
The rich around the world have an estimated $130 trillion in offshore banks and investment accounts. Moammar Gaddafi had $250 billion in gold alone in Tripoli and Europe.
Khan
Nov 20, 2012 03:07pm
We need to tax agiculral land in Pakistan, only those who have beyound their needs. Also there shall be limit to have land and control over it...these land-lords shall not control the people. Obama is taking right steps........now let businessmen pay their fair share. All employed people are paying 20 to 25% and the big businessmen paying only 14%. Again, keep in mind, this is personal income tax we are talking about here.
raika45
Nov 20, 2012 10:35am
How do the rich manage to get their passports if they are deliquint in their taxes. In most countries, you cannot get a passport without clearance from the tax department.
AHA
Nov 20, 2012 01:59pm
I do notI do not think Faiza was talking about the US economy. I agree that in case of most developed countries, constraining labor laws are the biggest source of wealth destruction. That was the cause of Britain becoming a basket case in the 70s and early 80s. It was the case with Germany till it did a turnaround in labor policies in the 90s, and re-emerged as a powerhouse that it is till now. France is still a basket case because of its highly protective labor laws with no hope of a revival under its new socialist government. US and Canada are good examples to too much labor rights and too little accountability. But they also happen to be the hubs for the most enterprising people in the world. And then you also have the anomaly coming from the Nordic countries. They are perhaps the most social (lefties?) of all of them, and yet they have the most enviable economy. Perhaps their small populating is the deciding factor. Coming back to Faiza, she was talking about Pakistan, where corruption and abuse of power by the rich, and not a preference of any economic system, is the cause of the problem. I do not think your response was in the right context.
joki81
Nov 20, 2012 08:16am
There are many reasons Pakistan is worse off than India, and Faiza has probably talked about most of them. Exploitation of the working poor is not one of them however, and since I'm European who visited India, but never Pakistan, I'm in a position to say that. I never asserted that all causes of Pakistans devastation apply to India, thanks for not implying I have.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 21, 2012 11:21pm
"US and Canada are good examples to too much labor rights and too little accountability." Not any more. All the labor unions were broken by high priced law firms. They are only shadows of what they were in the 1940s and 1950s. The USA a cannot be compared to Canada.
AbuTabu
Nov 20, 2012 04:54pm
Hmmm.... four million out of over one billion. That's not bad by any standards. And how many in Pakistan live below poverty line? 30 million out of 200 million.
Don't
Nov 20, 2012 12:07pm
How? Sounds like you've never been to a passport office in Pakistan. Blessed are you for not having the opportunity to do so. Did I answer your question?
Tahira, USA
Nov 20, 2012 01:41pm
Not only paid the minimum wage, those in the US who hire domestic help, must pay into the social security fund for them towards their retirement. Pakistanis should copy and adopt this good system and stop their propaganda against everything American.
Daniyal
Nov 19, 2012 11:05pm
I totally agree. As a citizen who has been harassed by tax officers in Karachi, it sometimes is frustrating. The taxpayers not only blackmail but expect compensation regardless of how honest your tax dealings are.
Sohrab
Nov 19, 2012 01:39pm
Thanks for the informative article. In one word that describes the Pakistani psyche and all its ills is "hyocricy". There is no way the bougeois ever give up things willingly except for a very few. It has to be snatched in a revolution, robbed at gunpoint or taken away as in a democracy after much debate and the use of political franchise. The latter is the most evolved and polished way to distribute rights and wealth. Pakistnais have that chance in the upcoming election unless they want to be forced into the more painful modalities. The politicians are mere politicians. It is the people themselves, ultimately, who will have to chalk out their destiny.