The News: Tax and lies
The stench of hypocrisy continues to stick to our elected lawmakers, who feel no shame in continuing to levy taxes on the middle and lower classes even as they dodge contributing their fair share for the public good. A joint study by a think tank and a tax watchdog organisation, found that nearly 50 percent of lawmakers in both the national and provincial assemblies did not pay any income tax. Out of those, 12 percent do not even possess National Tax Numbers (NTN). A large number of legislators, including such bigwigs as Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, did file taxes but even then their returns were significantly less than what they declared in their nomination forms. These facts should be remembered every time our representatives decide to reduce subsidies on electricity and other items necessary for the survival of the public and increase the regressive GST. The reason they have to keep punishing the common man further is because they and those like them do not see the need to follow the law and pay their taxes. Enforcement in the country is so lax that only the salaried class, whose taxes are deducted at the source, ends up paying income tax. Legislators, as we have always suspected and are now finding proof for, have no incentive to change this culture since they are the chief beneficiaries of the status quo.
Ideally, every legislator who has not filed income taxes or lied about the amount of taxes paid on his or her nomination form would be disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) or the courts, just as was done to those who lied about their educational qualifications. Such action cannot be taken, however, since tax returns are private and cannot be revealed to the public, even if lawmakers have lied about them. The time for taking action was when the nomination papers for prospective candidates were being scrutinised by the ECP. The tax and wealth information provided by the candidates was sent to the Federal Board of Revenue for verification. The FBR, however, could not share the tax information with the ECP and only verified the candidates’ NTNs, statements of assets and liabilities and income tax returns for the last three years. As we can now see, the FBR was deliberately negligent in its duty. Dodging taxes crosses party lines and since the FBR will end up serving whichever party forms the government it ended up verifying declarations that bore no relation to reality. With the FBR unwilling to carry out its duties, the organisation itself, along with all the delinquent legislators, should now have to face justice in the courts.