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Home »Budgets » 2013-14 » Budget 2013-14: No will to tax the rich
By just tinkering with tax rates here and there and imposing or enhancing regressive taxes - fixing revenue collection target at Rs 2598 billion for fiscal year 2013-14 - the new government has confirmed that like its predecessors it has no political will to tax the rich and tap the real tax potential of Pakistan, which is not less than Rs 8 trillion. It is obvious from the bare reading of Finance Bill 2013 that Ishaq Dar paid no heed to proposals given by experts for broadening of tax base and taxing the rich according to their ability, he rather opted to continue with presumptive and minimum tax regimes.

The Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, has shown no intention to bridge the huge tax gap and punish tax evaders. On the contrary, he has relied more on imaginary figures to restrict fiscal deficit to 6.3 percent of GDP. The revised estimate of fiscal deficit for the current year is 8.8 percent - measures like reducing Prime Minister's House expenditure may have political appeal but substantial economic impact is not there. No solution is offered for the Pakistan's real malady that is open and blatant non-compliance of tax laws by the powerful segments of society and existence of a large untaxed economy. Since the rulers themselves are the principal beneficiaries, they are not ready to undertake any corrective action or implement an aggressive policy to streamline the entire tax system.

Ishaq Dar, like his predecessors, has accepted what was suggested by the crafty tax bureaucrats sitting in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). The tax wizards in FBR have managed to hoodwink the new government as well by keeping the laws and procedures complex and cumbersome. It gives them unfettered and unbridled powers coupled with unchecked discretion. The businessmen were expecting the reduction in sales tax rate, which has been increased to further one percent. The burden will be shifted to the end consumers. It will make life miserable for millions, already living below the poverty line. This by no means a people-friendly or business-friendly step.

Before coming to power, both Nawaz and Shahbaz were highly critical of the economic policies of Pakistan People's Party, especially for seeking external loans and foreign aids. Now Shahbaz has openly sought assistance of foreign agencies to help Pakistan in overcoming its power crisis. He has requested international monetary institutions and donor agencies to extend maximum co-operation to find a solution to energy crisis, population control and development of health and other sectors. Earlier he was constantly talking about self-respect and self-reliance! While presiding over a meeting of representatives and experts from the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID) and other donor agencies at Punjab House, Islamabad on June 10, 2013, he begged before those whom he used to blame "for all our ills" in his election speeches.

The budget instead of raising revenue to the extent of Rs 8 trillion by taxing the rich and mighty, is eyeing the $1.4 billion reimbursement from the United States under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), over $1 billion in fees through the auction of 3G (third generation) technology and some other sectors. These are petty figures. We can easily raise tax revenues of over Rs 8 trillion, but there is no political will to do so.

Ishaq Dar too, before the announcement of budget allowed FBR to extend yet another immunity promising that if any outstanding tax dues are paid by June 30, 2013 no penal action would be taken as well as no default surcharge would be demanded. It shows the same attitude and policy as was adopted by the previous regimes of PPPP and Pervez Musharraf. So, people ask what is the difference between Nawaz and Zardari? - both protect tax defaulters. Both Nawaz and Zardari have enormous assets abroad and they cannot even think of taking any action against tax evaders. It would mean taking action against themselves. In fact, in the coming days, Nawaz will announce further tax concessions for the rich allowing more concentration of wealth in few hands. In the past, flight of capital and fake remittances to whiten untaxed money have been his "great achievements" in the wake of passing the so-called Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992 that helped Hudabiya Paper Mills to launder funds and seek immunity from any kind of probe by FBR or even Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). National Accountability Bureau (NAB) could have taken action against the beneficiaries but it chose to ignore the issue completely.

PROPOSED TAX MEASURES The claim is that focus of the budget 2013-14 is to improve tax-to-GDP ratio, which will ultimately be increased to 15 percent by 2018 [No detailed plan is given and it is nothing but rhetoric] The broad themes of government's taxation policy are (i) taxing those who are not paying any tax, (ii) enhancing efficiency of the tax machinery, (iii) removing anomalies and distortions in the tax system, (iv) simplifying the tax procedures, (v) broadening of the tax base, (vi) rationalisation of tax rates and exemptions, (vii) encouraging corporatization and documentation (viii) taxpayers facilitation and (ix) to eradicate maladministration and corruption in FBR [Again these are mere words not supported by any concrete steps announced in the budget]

Finance Bill 2013 proposes a number of new taxes, increased sales tax, more withholding tax on many items and many changes in excise duties. The burden on the common people has been increased and rich and mighty have not been asked to declare all the total world assets and their sources. Illogical tax measures like increasing rate on cash withdrawals from banks have been announced. The billions are lying abroad and invested at home without taxation, but there is not a single measure taken to confiscate all such assets. On the contrary only cosmetic measures like exemption from import duty for 1200CC hybrid cars or withholding tax on wedding ceremonies held at commercial venues have been proposed.

Making hollow promises to the people of "wonders" and "great achievements" for them are merely electoral compulsions of all political parties and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PLM-N) is no exception. In practice, the leaders of these parties are owners of huge assets and politics is their necessity to protect and promote their financial interests. They own political parties like personal assets, investing heavily in elections and then ensuring that after coming into power they reap more financial benefits. Democracy is just a sham in the Pakistani milieu where every budget is meant for cementing the control and rule of ashrafiya - comprising indomitable militro-judicial-civil complex, industrialist-turned politicians, landed aristocracy and unscrupulous traders.

Our economy is that of ashrafiya. It serves the interests of the privileged classes. The ruling classes, representing only 2 percent of entire population, own 95 percent of national resources. They exploit labour of landless tillers, poor urban workers and white-collared employees to amass more and more wealth. Additionally, they create artificial hike in prices of essential items to snatch back whatever little is earned or saved by the 98 percent ordinary people.

DISTURBING FACTS

-- Financing huge non-productive expenditures: debt servicing of Rs 1154 billion, grants and transfer plus government running expenses of Rs 540 billion, Rs 600 billion for subsidies on power and food, Rs 300-400 billion for loss-making PSEs and Rs 627 billion for defence.

-- Monstrous fiscal deficit: Rs 1502 billion of the tax revenue is to go to the provinces. Centre will have only Rs 1918 billion to meet all expenses. It means a huge fiscal deficit leading to more borrowing and enhanced outlay for debt servicing - a vicious circle for which no remedy is suggested. Total debt has already crossed the figure of Rs 13.5 trillion and will soon be Rs 15 trillion.

-- Fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves: Reserves at just $6 billion will certainly force the government to go to IMF soon as 40 percent of these reserves have been borrowed from commercial banks in the forward market. The Finance Bill 2013, presented by Ishaq Dar, confirms that the poor are condemned to pay exorbitant indirect taxes while unprecedented tax concessions exist for the ashrafiya. Not a single tax is levied on the rich and mighty to bridge the monstrous fiscal deficit.

On the contrary, shameless borrowing from banks and elsewhere is to continue in order to push the nation in a darker 'debt prison'. There is no inclination whatsoever to make Pakistan a self-reliant economy. The budget 2013-14, like all earlier budgets, favours the rich and taxes the poor to the extent of extinction.

The budget-making process has become an epitome of apathy of the elected towards the masses of this country, who vote them into power with the hope that they would do something for their socio-economic uplifting or at least provide them basic essential services - housing, transport, education and health - to say the least. People in Parliament are least bothered about the impact of regressive taxation on the poor of this Land of Pure. Time and again, it has been emphasised that democracy is not electioneering per se. Establishment of a responsible government caring for the needs of its people is a prerequisite for true democratic dispensation, which is only possible if the Parliament performs its Constitutional role, implements flawless process of accountability and ensures good governance. But in the last Assembly about 75 percent of its members were tax return defaulters! Now majority of them are back for another 5 years! What do you expect from tax delinquents? If the members of Parliaments have no respect for Rule of Law how can they contribute positively towards promoting tax compliance?

In the coming days, the government of PML-N will get the Finance Bill 2013 passed without any resistance or debate. Sole stress on indirect taxation [even under the garb of income taxation through presumptive tax regime on a number of transactions] without evaluating its impact on the economy and life of the poor masses is totally missing. There is no concern for decreasing contribution of income tax [although major portion of it is now composed of indirect levies or expenditure taxes) as percentage of GDP which is continuously declining; it was merely 1.9 percent in 2010-11, 2.2 percent in 2009-10, 2.6 percent in 2008-09, 2.9 percent in 2007-08, 3.0 percent in 2006-07, 3.01 percent in 2005-2006, whereas in 2004-2005 it was 3.15 percent [YEAR BOOKS 2004-05 to 2010-11 of FBR and Economic Surveys].

Reliance on indirect taxes that constitute 75 percent of total collection proves beyond any doubt that the tax system is emphatically contributing to rising poverty as people who earn enormous income and possess immense wealth are not being subjected to income taxation in Pakistan. Thus the very purpose of redistribution of wealth as the main object of taxation is being defeated and nullified. It is pertinent to mention that in 2012, the government of Sweden collected taxes at 53 percent of GDP, almost twice as high as the total tax revenue of America and Japan, with both collecting around 25 percent of GDP. In the Euro area, tax revenue, on average, reaches 40 percent of GDP. In contrast we have collected taxes at 8.4 percent of GDP.

In Pakistan, there is no political will to tax the privileged classes. Pakistan has been facing a variety of crises specifically in areas of: resources for its developmental policies, meeting trade deficits, fiscal deficits and balance of payments, in addition to numerous others. One of the factors responsible for the present situation is failure to enforce tax compliance that is responsible for promoting a huge informal economy.

FBR is directly responsible for this phenomenon as its mafia-like operations have helped the people to avoid tax on incomes by paying it "due share". Through the infamous system of SROs [Statutory Regulator Orders], FBR's top officials provide "legal" ways and means to the mighty and influential sections of the society (ashrafiya) to amass huge wealth that is now threatening the State's very survival. It is worth mentioning that even before presenting the Finance Bill, 2013, FBR issued notification 494(I)/2013 on June 10, 2013 giving immunity. Last year 569(I)/2012 was issued on 26 May 2012 saying that government officials in Grade 20-22 will pay just 5 percent tax on monetized transport allowance. Bureaucracy bestowed on itself this benefit of reduced rate taxation, blatantly bypassing the Parliament. Ishaq Dar despite being aware of it has done nothing against it which confirms that politicians and bureaucrats work hand in hand to cause the exchequer stupendous loss of revenue through SROs.

Reduction of duties for cartels possessing enormous money has been extended by using executive authority in the form of SROs. Pakistan is a unique country where the executive authority can conveniently undo laws made by the Parliament under so-called delegated powers which is gross violation of Article 162 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which reads as under:

"162. Prior sanction of President required to Bills affecting taxation in which Provinces are interested: - No Bill or amendment which imposes or varies a tax or duty the whole or part of the net proceeds whereof is assigned to any Province, or which varies the meaning of the expression "agricultural income" as defined for the purposes of the enactments relating to income-tax, or which affects the principles on which under any of the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, moneys are or may be distributable to Provinces, shall be introduced or moved in the National Assembly except with the previous sanction of the President."

Article 162 debars even the National Assembly to grant exemptions without the prior approval of the President but interestingly, this power has been delegated unconstitutionally to an executive authority by the Parliament. How can Parliament delegate a power which it cannot exercise itself without the prior sanction of the President? By delegating powers under tax codes, the Legislature has violated Article 162 of the Constitution.

We have repeatedly pointed out this brazen violation of the Constitution requesting Supreme Court to take suo motu action under Article 189. It is sad to note that till today our pleadings have fallen on deaf ears. We were expecting that Bar Councils, taxpayers, tax advisers, civil society, and businessmen would raise their voices on this issue, but till today there is complete silence on their side. No wonder any dictator-military or civilian-can play havoc with the supreme law of the land as he knows that those who claim to be champions of rule of law keep mum whenever it suits them. We remain the lone fighters against this flagrant violation of constitution that has serious ramification for the federation as a whole. History will never forgive those who have deprived the smaller provinces from exercising their constitutional right of fair and equitable fiscal jurisdiction.

The common man is subjected to exorbitant sales tax and federal excise duty of 16 percent (tax incidence is 35 percent on finished imported goods after applicable customs duty, sales tax, federal excise, mandatory value addition and income tax) on essential commodities [even salt sold under brand names is subjected to 16 percent sales tax] but the mighty sections of society such as generals, high-raking bureaucrats, judges getting plots from the state are not paying any wealth tax/income tax on their colossal assets/incomes. The same is the case with big industrialists and landed classes that get concessions and exemption through SROs.

The existing tax system protects the interests of ashrafiya and exploitative elements that have monopoly over economic resources - those who own 95 percent of national resources are contributing less than 2 percent to the overall tax collection. This shows why there is no political will to tax the privileged classes. Unfair taxation and inequitable distribution of resources is the root cause of our multiple socio-economic ills. State policies induce massive tax evasion [section 111(4) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 is a permanent tool for whitening of untaxed money].

Pakistan has about 120 million mobile users who pay both income tax and sales tax but even less than 1.5 million file income tax returns - if statements filed for presumptive taxes are excluded, the actual number is below 700,000. Majority of mobile users may not have taxable income (Rs 350,000, raised to 400,000 from tax year 2013) yet they are burdened with undue liability. On the contrary, many rich people just pay a fraction of income tax (withheld at source) on their actual taxable incomes without bothering to file their income tax returns - less than 250,000 non-salaried return filers admitted that their annual income was more than Rs one million!

Pakistan can easily collect Rs 8 trillion to eliminate fiscal deficit. If we have 10 million individuals having annual taxable income of Rs 1.5 million (a very conservative estimate), total income tax collection from them at the prevalent tax rates comes to Rs 3750 billion. If we add income tax collected from corporate bodies, other non-individual taxpayers and individuals having income between Rs 400,000 to Rs 1,000,000, the gross figure would not be less than Rs 5000 billion. FBR collected only Rs 716 billion as income tax in the last fiscal year. Similarly, due to rampant corruption in sales tax, federal excise and custom duties, the total collection is not more than 30 percent of actual potential. In fiscal year 2011-12, FBR collected Rs 804.8 billion under the head sales tax, Rs 122.5 billion under federal excise duty and only Rs 216.9 billion under custom duties. The total indirect collection of just Rs 1148.2 billion is pathetically low. It should have been at least Rs 3500 billion. If prevalent tax gap of billions is bridged, the total revenue collection cannot be less than Rs 8500 billion without imposing any new taxes or raising existing tax rates, which have been suggested in the Finance Bill 2013.

Ishaq Dar is a chartered accountant and understands figure work well but he has shown no interest in bridging the tax gap that can increase tax revenues to Rs 8500 billion (Rs 5000 billion direct taxes and Rs 3500 billion indirect taxes). He probably knows that we can do so and there would be enough money for meeting current expenditure and for development and public welfare outlays but ashrafiya not only wants complete control over resources, it is also not willing to pay due taxes. Nawaz et al are part of ashrafiya that is not ready to implement Article 3 of the Constitution that says: "The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work". This is the real dilemma of Pakistan. We will never be able to reap the fruits of democracy unless this Constitutional obligation is fulfilled by the rulers. A budget conforming to this principle alone would qualify to be called pro-people and meant for progress of Pakistan and well-being of its citizens.(The writers, tax lawyers and partners in HUZAIMA & IKRAM (Taxand Pakistan), are Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013


the author

Huzaima Bukhari, Advocate High Court and Visiting Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), is author of numerous books and articles on Pakistani tax laws. She is partner of Huzaima & Ikram, a leading law firm of Pakistan. From 1984 to 2003 she was associated with Civil Services of Pakistan. Since 1987, she has been teaching tax laws at various institutions including government-run training institutes in Lahore. She specialises in the areas of international tax laws, corporate and commercial laws. She is review editor for many publications of Amsterdam-based International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD) and contributes regularly to their journals.




Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate Supreme Court and Chief Partner of Huzaima & Ikram (Taxand Pakistan), has studied journalism, English literature and law for his Master's and Doctorate. He is Visiting Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and author of many books that include Pakistan: From Hash to Heroin and its sequel Pakistan: Drug-trap to Debt-trap, Law & Practice of Income Tax, Law & Practice of Sales Tax, Practical Handbook of Income Tax, Tax Laws of Pakistan, Principles of Income Tax with Glossary, Master Tax Guide, Income Tax Digest (with judicial analysis) and Commentary on Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement by Pakistan. He writes columns regularly for many Pakistani newspapers on tax issues. He has to his credit over 500 articles on tax issues printed in various journals, magazines and newspapers.

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