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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Nov 29, 2013

Taxmen perturbed: Tax concessions to business disturb budget targets

Perturbed by a host of relaxations given by the government to
affluent industrialists that are undermining efforts to enhance
revenues, the country’s top tax collecting agency has said concessions
offered to the business community have made this year’s budget
irrelevant.

The business community had proved strong enough in exerting pressure
in a manner that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had been unable to
stand its ground, according to Shahid Hussain Asad, Member Inland
Revenue Policy of the FBR.

He was speaking at a seminar organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute on tax and energy reforms here on Friday.

Asad’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
announced an amnesty scheme for industrialists. According to the scheme,
the source of income will not be asked on investments in new and
existing projects. Penalties on late filing of income tax returns have
been waived and conditions for audit have been relaxed, undermining the
government’s campaign to bring big fish into the tax net.

"The reality is that the business community is very strong and not
ready to bear the burden according to its capacity," according to an FBR
official. He said the FBR had made the budget while keeping in mind the
tax collection target of Rs2.475 trillion for the current fiscal year.

So far, the official said, all the Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs)
– a legal instrument used to amend tax laws – that the FBR issued in
the last five months had been on the demand of the business community.
“If parliament’s approved budget is not acceptable to the people, then
the right of reversing those decisions should also be exercised by
parliament,” he suggested.

"The FBR is fed up with issuing SROs and is ready to surrender this power to parliament," the official added.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar revealed on Thursday that during the short
tenure of his government the business community had presented 26
demands and the government accepted and implemented 25 of them while the
last was at the approval stage at the Ministry of Law.

The amnesty scheme is also said to have drawn attention of the
international donor community and they have started collecting
information before making recommendations to their headquarters.

Schemes that helped rich people legalise their black money were being
introduced to give a safe passage to the corrupt, commented Pakistan
Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan on Friday while criticising the
amnesty scheme.

FBR’s biggest revenue spinning measures have become irrelevant
because of continuous changes in laws. The wealth statement filing
condition has been relaxed on the demand of the business community. So
far, 10,251 taxpayers not belonging to the salaried class have filed
wealth statements and declared assets of over Rs1 million.

According to the FBR, the salaried people are paying more taxes than
the businessmen who are earning more than the salaried class.

The FBR is questioning who will implement the law in such circumstances where the businessmen
have more say in the power corridors than the taxmen.

The premier has also barred the FBR from accessing bank accounts of
existing taxpayers, that too on the demand from the industrialists and
traders.

FBR officials suggest that the taxation system should be transparent and no SROs should be issued.

Shahid Asad, who is also the spokesman for the FBR, said the FBR had
not stopped the audit process. The audit would continue but those new
taxpayers, who pay a minimum tax of Rs25,000 and the existing taxpayers
who declare a 25% increase in their income, would be exempt, he said.

Asad said the PM had also directed to review the possibility of
reducing income tax rates and the FBR would consider it for the next
financial year, adding the government also wanted to reduce the sales
tax rate to single digit.