The dam charity: Sorry, I can’t do more

Published: July 17, 2018
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The Chief Justice of Pakistan took the first step forward and announced the public fund for construction of dams in Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE

As Pakistanis, we generally make headlines for all the wrong reasons these days, but there is one thing we can still be proud of. Despite having a shattered economy and prevalent poverty, we are one of the most charitable nations in the world. No one could have expected that this fact would one day work against the nation as well.

Recently, the age-old issue of the construction of dams took the limelight once again, as Pakistan ranked third among countries facing water shortage. This alarming situation put every state institution on high alert, including the Supreme Court. Fed up with the inefficiency, incompetence and unwillingness of political leadership regarding this serious issue, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) took the first step forward and announced the public fund for construction of dams in Pakistan.

To lead by example, he donated a heavy sum of Rs1 million and appealed the general public to follow suit, as our Armed Forces also contributed.

These steps from the CJP and the Armed Forces added value and credibility to this fund, and others also began to contribute. No one doubts the goodwill of the CJP, the Army and the masses. However, the primary question to be asked is: should dams be built with donations?

If I were optimistic, I would assume there will be zero corruption in the fund. However, for me, the very idea of donations for basic infrastructural requirements is troublesome. If tax payers’ money is not being used appropriately and sums of millions and billions are being embezzled, it’s the duty of state institutions to stop that practice. It is state responsibility to hold those accountable who are making fortunes for themselves and their families, at the expense of taxpayers. After all, why should a common taxpayer have to suffer for the inefficiency of state institutions?

For those who don’t understand how many taxes a citizen of Pakistan is subjected to, let me list a few for you. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Income Tax,

Goods and Services Tax (GST),

Capital Value Tax (CVT),

Value Added Tax (VAT),

Central Sales Tax (CST),

Service Tax,

Fuel adjustment charges,

Petrol levy,

Excise Duty,

Customs Duty,

Octroi,

Tax Deducted at Source (TDS),

Property Tax,

Stamp Duty,

Local Cess,

TV license fee,

Capital Gains Tax (CGT),

Water Tax,

Professional Tax,

Road Tax,

Securities Transaction Tax (STT),

Education Cess,

Wealth Tax,

Capital Gain Tax,

Congestion Levy, and so on.

This doesn’t include the occasional bhatta you have to pay while dealing with any government institution, right from the traffic police to the legal system.

To put things into perspective, take a look at the recent default of Shaheen Air. As per the BBC, this airline is a defaulter of Rs1.5 billion. It is now up to the State to make them clear their dues and use that money for the welfare of people. Defaulters of such huge amounts are roaming free, but common citizens are expected to not only fill the void in finance created by these defaulters, but also donate money on top of it?

Another example of financing public institutions via donations – despite the government having all the funds in its control – was showcased by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). PTI formed the Provincial Government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), but rather than pushing his government to build quality hospitals like Shaukat Khanam Lahore, Imran Khan was asking the public to donate for a hospital in Peshawar, and that too in his name. How on earth can the leader of a provincial government even ask for donations for a private hospital in a city where his own party is collecting, managing and spending funds?

Even if I buy the argument that there were insufficient government funds to build a hospital (which I don’t, by the way), the proper procedure would be to come forward with the financial details, making it clear how much money is required to build a hospital, how much is available via taxes, and how much is needed via donations. There has to be a difference in a political party’s behaviour when they are in the government, as compared to when they are part of the opposition. You campaign for years to get into power and lure people in by telling them funds are not an issue; corruption is, which is the only reason why the masses are unable to meet basic needs. But if once you are in power, the situation remains more or less the same, what is the point?

There is absolutely no doubt that charity is a noble act, but both the masses as well as people in key positions of this country have to understand that the infrastructure of a state cannot be built by donations. The State subjects citizens to taxes to collect funds that are then supposed to be used to build hospitals, motorways, schools, hospitals and, of course, dams. If some institution is corrupt and embezzling millions, the State has to rectify that, rather than trying to go for a parallel funding structure through public shout outs for charity. Donations and charity cannot be resorted to for national level causes, until and unless all other financial sources are exhausted. They become acceptable in unusual situations, as they did during the war of 1965 and the earthquake in 2005.

The CJP has now asked to revise the water pricing mechanism, in order to collect one-fourth of the total cost of the dam from the people. It’s quite clear he wants to use every possible channel to acquire funds for the dams. However, the primary question remains the same: why not retake the millions and billions of rupees embezzled by corrupt officials, and use it for the dams? Taxing people for one-fourth of the total cost is still not going to solve the problem, as the major chunk – three-fourth of the total cost – is still dependent upon charity thus far.

Moreover, there is still no clear plan regarding how this dam will be built. If state institutions will be involved, as per the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), how will they ensure the dam funds won’t be embezzled as well?

Am I advocating against charity? No.

Do I mean to stop people from being generous? No, not at all.

If you see someone in need, help them as much as you can. But there is the need to differentiate between the state and an individual. After all, the country cannot be run like an NGO. For instance, we can buy licensed guns for our personal security, but what about security on a larger scale, for our neighbourhoods or cities? Will we also ask for volunteers for militias and distribute patrolling duties, in order to ensure our own security when the state fails? No, we wouldn’t (and we shouldn’t). Instead, we would put pressure on state institutions, because it’s their job to do it. You pay them. It’s your money they are supposed to use to protect you from thugs.

If you think rationally, building a dam is no different. You can buy a water can or even have a well drilled or a tube well installed to help those in need first-hand. But building a dam through charity, unfortunately, is not the way forward. On the contrary, if it’s done this way, it will set a very dangerous precedent for the generations to come. This method gives undue legitimacy to the state’s unwilling approach to solve issues pertaining to corruption. Worse, it allows them to continue wreaking havoc in this country where we, the citizens (read: peasants), are constantly asked to stretch a bit more and keep giving until we have nothing left to give.

Therefore, with all due respect, I can’t do more. Not anymore.

Abdullah Ansari

Abdullah Ansari

An electrical engineer by profession, Abdullah works in the oil and gas industry. His interests include international relations, global politics and debating. He tweets @AjebSceneHaBhai (twitter.com/ajebscenehabhai)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saud Hassan

    aoa i agree with your arguments and it is crucial to build dam but impossible without removing corruption. i want to share my views regarding dam building with amount of donation. for example the employed workforce of Pakistan was in 2015 survey 57420000 and total amount required for Bhasha dam is 1.5 trn /1,500,000,000,000 now if every employed worker donate Rs.75 per day for 1 year then it will be possible to build bhasha dam with donation and there must be an online system where entry of single rupee updated by the concerned authority on regular basisRecommend

  • Abdul Salam

    Good oneRecommend

  • LoveBox Foru

    I don’t agree with you.Recommend

  • Stupid Intelligent

    Chill Bro. Just Chill. Dams be good for water.Recommend

  • Khan

    by dear boy, not all pakistan citizens are subjected to the tax’s you have highlighted. The common man does not even pay half of these tax’s. please stop misleading everyone. If the people of pakistan supported the PML N government in its tenure the dam dam would have been built by now, but people are too self centred to look at the bigger picture and focus solely on your own province.Recommend

  • powayman

    Same old story – Pakistan has sufficient funds to buy high tech destroyers, cruise missiles and nukes which have zero value in the war against TTP and terrorism – but doesn’t have money for the basics like water/dams/sewers/schools/medicine. Life is a series of choices and we needsto re-evaluate what’s important.Recommend

  • Umer Murtaza Khawer

    While all of your points are valid and true in all their entirety. The thing you mentioned in your very second paragraph ” as Pakistan ranked third among countries facing water shortage” remains unchanged.

    you are right it is not our duty to donate, we already did that in form of taxes. and donating now will infact put us in worse situation since now whenever a new problem arise the govt will just resort for asking donations instead of fixing their own budget.

    but debating all of that and pointing fingers will not fix the water shortage. the truth is we need water and soon we will run out of it. I would rather blame the govt with wet throat than not be able to speak at all since there is no water.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    All note that “charity” from citizens is required since adding the extremely wealthy Pakistani Feudals and Elites to the direct tax net is unthinkable!
    After all, direct taxes in Pakistan are only levied on the little people!Recommend

  • Masud Alam

    If you do not want to contribute do it quietly. Thank you.Recommend

  • Shakil Durrani

    Donating/gifting money for building two new dams is basically a symbolic affirmation. It commits all future governments to providing adequate funds for these. Very often in the past governments would discontinue or reduce the release of funds for projects initiated by their political adversaries. With the Supreme Court and the Armed forces committed they would not be able to shy away.Recommend

  • Umar

    Beautifully written. Excellent !Recommend

  • HeyAow

    I really don’t buy this dam crowd-funding project either. Have the defaulters and convicted politicians who played with our money contribute to the fund, not the common people who are already paying so many taxes and getting no benefit in return. I appreciate the CJP’s concern and do not doubt his intent, but this whole thing gives the Government the edge to get away with its responsibilities and further oppress its people on the pretext of a national fervour of self-sufficiency. Shaukat Khanum is a completely different story, though. I’m proud of how Shaukat Khanum was built with the money of my people. You can question the then KPK government for not making a hospital from their funds, but I don’t think criticising Imran Khan for making Shaukat Khanum in his personal capacity is justified. He did not raise money from people for a project of the KPK government.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I feel the gesture is symbolic….any sane person knows that projects like this are funded in a completely different manner.
    Just a thought ….. If the amount spent on the Orange Line in Lahore that benefits at best some 3 million people, were spent on at least one dam, it’s benefits would have been far more for the whole country….. but that would have required a holistic far reaching vision…..something we sadly lack.Recommend

  • Awaad Abdul Ahad Khan

    With no offence to anyone, I agree with the author. This article reminds me of a story. A few years ago, the transformer in my area (where I live) was damaged by a workers building a house for a … well, to put it politely, a rich person. It was a private transformer and paid to by 14 different houses. When WAPDA personnel came they informed us that its repair will cost around 80,000 / – Rupees. The rich person agreed to pay as it was his workers who after various warnings had still managed to damage the transformer. However, after the transformer was fixed, the rich guy only paid 50,000/- PKR and asked the people of the neighborhood to pay the remaining amount. During the neighborhood meeting, I asked this question from the rich guy that if I damaged his car, would he expect me to pay for it or share the cost 50 50? He said he would demand that I pay for its repair. Hence, I rested my case. I didn’t pay for the repair of the transformer but some neighbors contributed and collected 30,000 /- PKR and paid WAPDA.

    I am a working man. I have no lands or property from which I get a second income. If I don’t get my salary my family will not eat. Its as simple as that. I cannot afford to contribute towards the dam. I honestly don’t have any money to last me this month. But even if I did, on principle I would not pay. Because I have seen Zardari’s farm house in England. I have seen Jathiumrah, I have seen Nawaz Sharif’s house in Murree. I have seen Zardari palace in Dubai, I have seen Bilawal house. And yes, I live very close to Imran Khan’s house as well. My house is very small and during load shedding it is very hot. Is there any load shedding in Jathiumrah? Need I say more?Recommend

  • Zeeshan Khan

    No one is asking you to do more.. do your part if you want too.. every Pakistani not standing against these corrupt mafia is part of the problem. So dont just say I pay my taxes.. This is an extreme situation, country needs our help, its not mandatory, just help if you want too if you don’t want to or can’t there are millions of others Pakistani who will. Always remember “katra katra darya bunta hi” every peny counts. With whats happening in Syria, Libya, Iraq Yemen etc. we should be thankful to Allah to even at our worst we are still standing. So never loose hope. We still can pull together and turn the tide.Recommend

  • Zeeshan Khan

    When the people of Lahore themselves they we like the metro and trains and roads so the leaders will only do that. This is the sad reality. If people of Lahore would have stood against this Orange line it would have never been made. Until we realize that we are part of the problem, this problem will never solve.Recommend

  • Sane

    Pakistan has come to a state when such steps, which should be taken by the govt. is handled by Supreme Court. What the last govt. and last to it have done with this country?!!! All who matter in those govt. must be prosecuted for treason and punished. Does Pakistan need any enemy or we are self sufficient to destroy this country more than an enemy can do.Recommend

  • Abdul Hadi kk

    Very Good WritingRecommend

  • Xahid

    Abdulllah Ansari, you have written an excellent article, words directly from heart.
    They need to reconsider these unlimited taxes impose to every person. or at least utilize it systematically.Recommend

  • Fahim

    I got 15,000 electric bill 5400 was only tax. 9600 includes per unit cost, corruption and kickbacksRecommend

  • Muzammil Ahmed

    My personal opinion. Donating or not donating is an individual choice. Relating it to the tax money collection and dam should be built on from that is totally a different story. Not everybody pays tax, and my question is how many small medium and large business do actually pay a tax and has tax numbers assigned to them and are audited. How you as a person will make sure or how much you know where the tax money is going , offcourse its being money laundered and being utilized in wrong way or unncessary projects. We all know how inefficient the government and is it not us who we choose and bring those people to rule us. So why complain.

    We are in dire need of DAM as one time we were for nuclear program to save this country from threats. I do not want to complain after 10 years that now i dont have water to drink and it should be the government 10 years ago and it was responsibility of that governement back then. I rather choose to donate rather then relying on useless goverenment to take loan from China and IMF and eat it again.

    I totally support CJP. Even strong economy like MALAYSIA recently have started a project called “TABUNG HARAPAN” ( google search it) to reduce the government debt as done by previous corrupt government. 40 million USD (5 Arab PKR) collected in 2 months from donations by individuals and companies.

    We need to save this country. Dont complain guys need your actions.

    What all we need is that Judiciary has to make sure that indeed this money will eventually be utilized transparently.Recommend

  • https://yasirshahzad.com Yasir Shahzad

    Well Said.Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    hmmm then do not donate as simple as that … u will pay for the water usage the electricity generated that is not going to be free anyway.. the donation is again just a charity its not zakat or khairat or sadqa … instead of donation it should be investment meaning every single person who has donated should not only get their money back but also should get profit.
    I would urge PTI govt IK is the person i trust with money my money so i will ask him to invest our money in dam project and pay us back in 4-5 years i do not need profit i just need my money invested back in Pakistani rupees as i know today dollar is 125 rs 4-5 years later inshaAllah it will be about 90-100 that means profit of 25-30 rs per dollar invested … awesome idea.. i do not want ppl to donate i want ppl to invest yes donation account must be seperateRecommend

  • Rizwan Alam

    Author forgot to mention another very important tax which is applied at far more instances and impacts all citizens whether they are tax filers or not and that is
    With holding tax. For example on ATM Cash withdrawal, Cash withdrawal on already taxed money, on investments, profits and dividends of all any/kinds,
    sale & purchase of property, yearly motor vehicle road tax also includes a significant amount of with holding tax, on remittances, on imports, on intra company payments, etc etcRecommend

  • Sane

    People will contribute with lot of fervor, if all MNAs are forced to contribute Rs. 10,000,000/- all MPAs Rs. 5,000,000/- All govt. employees above grade 18 Rs. 100,000/-Recommend

  • WJ

    Thank you for giving perfect words to mine and every tax payer’s thoughts! Well done!Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    Well said zeeshan! The institutions will never improve even if we do any thing. Authorś point of view is correct in principle but if we dont contribute to dam fund,we will suffer at the end of the day.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    U can extract money from corrupt politicians by legal way which is lengthy and complex problem.Has Nawaz Sharif returned billions?Recommend