Gazans imposed "unreasonable taxes" as Hamas passes fiscal crisis

08:23, April 20, 2010      

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A'ahed al-Shawa, a 31-year-old meat vendor, who owns a butcher shop in western Gaza City, was shocked when representatives of the Hamas-ruled municipality informed him that he has to pay annual taxes for placing his grill machine outside his shop.

"They asked me to pay 1,500 Israeli new shekels (404 U.S. dollars) every year for putting my grill meat machine outside my store," al-Shawa said, adding "I have never paid such kind of new unreasonable taxes before, either to Israel or to the Palestinian (National) Authority."

In the last couple of weeks, Gaza Strip store keepers, owners of supermarkets and grocery stores complained that the deposed government of Hamas movement in Gaza is imposing unreasonable and unfair taxes on products such as cigarettes, cars, motorcycles, electric generators and fuels.

"They (Hamas government) are searching for any reason to collect money from the poor people who have been suffering from the Israeli siege, which shows the real financial crisis that Hamas is passing through these days," Abu Ahmed, another store keeper who declined to give his full name, told Xinhua.

Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a Gaza-based economist, told Xinhua that any government in the world "has the right to collect taxes from the people, but in accordance with a transparent and clear law of taxes and customs," adding "unfortunately, the tax situation in Gaza doesn't have any basic law."

"Normally, the population who pay regular taxes or customs to their states and governments usually get benefits in return, however, we don't feel that we have in Gaza such a fact, but because the government in Gaza passes through a fiscal crisis, it wanted to fulfill the deficiency by collecting taxes," he said.

Jamal Nassar, a Hamas lawmaker and chairman of the Financial Affairs Committee in the Hamas-dominated Legislative Council (PLC), told Xinhua that the government faces a problem in getting money into the Gaza Strip due to an Israeli blockade that has been imposed on the enclave for four years.

Israel has been imposing a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since Gaza militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier in a cross- border attack in June 2006. Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas seized control of the enclave by force in June 2007.

"The Israeli siege had negatively influenced the government, which became unable to bring money from abroad after the banks in Gaza completely responded to instructions of the Central American Bank, which prohibited financial ties with Hamas and the government," said Nassar.

After Hamas ousted its rival Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas in the last legislative elections held in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, the International Quartet for peace in the Middle East imposed an embargo on Hamas movement.

The Quartet conditioned lifting the embargo with the recognition of the state of Israel and the peace treaties signed with it as well as condemning violence against the Jewish state. However, Hamas leaders rejected the Quartet's requirements and insists not to recognize Israel.

Nassar revealed that the banks in Gaza can not violate the Central American Bank's instructions, adding that "90 percent of the government's budget depends on financial asset that used to be received from abroad, while 10 percent of the budget are collected as taxes and customs."

Big profitable commercial companies in Gaza refrain from paying taxes and customs to the deposed government of Hamas, said Nassar, adding that "this negatively affects the government's performance, which has been recently unable to cover the monthly salaries of its 32,000 employees."

Nassar denied that the government in Gaza imposes taxes on electric generators, adding "all are just rumors, totally untrue." However, he said that "the government collects craft taxes from workers who are able to work, and if any worker can't pay it, he has the right to complain."

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas movement leader, told a rally in Gaza to mark four years of the forming of Hamas government, that "Hamas gave a pioneering example in ruling the Gaza Strip, after four years of forming the Palestinian government."

"Despite the unfair four-year Israeli siege, blocking the financial transfers to the government from abroad and the closure of commercial crossings, Hamas hasn't borrowed one cent in the name of the Palestinian people," said al-Hayya, adding Hamas " succeeded in management and achieving security and safety."

But Osama al-Qawasmi, Fatah party's spokesman in the West Bank, told Xinhua that the Hamas rule of Gaza "is the worst ever example of rule that the Palestinian people have ever had," adding "Hamas divided the Palestinian territories, tortured the people and imposed heavy taxes and customs on them." (1 U.S. dollar = 3.7133 Israeli new shekels)



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