Saturday, December 4, 2021

Assets, Tax Amnesty Scheme meant for squeezing more revenue


Sajid Aziz
Sajid Aziz, an Investigative Journalist is perhaps among very rare journalists who have performed in every form of journalism i.e. Newspaper, Radio, TV, Wire Service, Online, Web-Service, Magazines, etc.He also worked as Sports Editor in wire agency PPI. He has obtained many certificates in journalism from foreign organizations including Reuters Thomson, Commonwealth Journalists' Organization, US Consulate, etc. He is also the president of Media For Diversity, an organization of professional journalists. He can be reached at [email protected]

Majority of the people think that tax amnesty scheme in the offing is more designed to squeeze revenue while the newly appointed expat adviser on finance has desired that the tax amnesty scheme should be people-friendly, help document the informal economy and bring more non-filers into the tax net instead of just generating funds.

Until now, the general perception which had developed about such an amnesty was by and large inhibitive in tone and substance.

Many who should have and could have benefited, particularly traders, small and home-based businesses and those squatting on huge undeclared wealth gained through tax evasion, money laundering, etc. have continued to sit on the fence.

What are the features, advantages and benefits (FABs) to them of such an exercise remains a million dollar question. The general narrative is that only the government would benefit from it, not them.

This needs to be addressed. Dr.  Abdul Hafeez Shaikh seems to have realized this gap and has attempted to clarify that the idea is people-friendly.

But more is needed through articulation from Finance Ministry, FBR, etc. and perception management by other units in tandem.

The inability to do so appears to be government’s and the bureaucracy’s Achilles heel compounded by media skepticism and negativism- agony, sadness, crime, punishment, etc. sell and facilitate viewership rating rat race.

Dr. Shaikh has directed the FBR to fine-tune the scheme to make it simple to understand and easy to implement, an official statement has said, adding that the objective of the scheme should be to make the economy more tax-compliant and documented.

That is in our opinion second objective. The first objective to make it people-friendly could attract wider participation.

For that to happen, potential gainers should be made aware of the immediate benefits first and advantages in months and years ahead.

Identify and present the low hanging fruits (add some more) to this community, such as 2.5 times or more automatic home equity credit facility or business startup loan if assets are declared and one-time tax paid.

Again, it’s all about perception management at the end of the day. The government has the political capital to utilize for this venture.

The business community’s demand for a longer period should be incentivized and making it more liberal, a demand made by some leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and others could be incorporated now or in days ahead, as long as the first objective is somewhat achieved by June 30.

That the amnesty scheme would come into force immediately to enable people to declare assets and pay taxes on them by June 30 may be a herculean task though, but if it is people-friendly, driven by affirmative action for inclusiveness, and not focused on drawing blood, it would definitely be a good start.

Also, re-announcing former PM Khaqan Abbasi’s idea- sans political narrowness-of converting CNIC’s as NTN would be an added plus.

Imagine overnight Pakistan’s tax base (theoretically) would quantum jump from 3 million to millions. After all, nearly 100 million is part of the informal economy and deserve to be recognized and enabled if the benefits are told.

Paying tax or not paying tax or not even filing tax return is another matter that can be addressed incrementally. There’s no short-cut except FAB-driven.

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