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Business Recorder

Published Date: Mar 5, 2015

The fault lies in our stars

The budget season has begun. Possibly one of the first in the series of
annual pre-budget seminars was held earlier week. Called the National
Tax Summit, the seminar was jointly organised by the SDPI and Oxfam
Pakistan. But for those who already follow Pakistans economy – such as
the readers of this column – the seminar offered little new to discuss,
though of course for no fault of the organisers or the speakers. The
fault lies in our stars.

As Dr Akmal Hussain pointed out at the summit, equity is the foundation principle of the state of Pakistan.

“The great ideals of human progress, of social justice, of
equality and of fraternity…, constitute the basic causes of the birth
of Pakistan,” none other than Jinnah himself said this on March 28,

Akmal also chose to highlight Article 38(A) of Pakistans
constitution that says: the state shall secure the well-being of the
people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their
standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means
of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of
general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between
employers and employees, and landlords and tenants.

How could a society go from these founding principles of economy
to one where majority of taxation is indirect, where tax laws are
extremely complex, where corruption and rent seeking is the norm, where
bulk of income – including agricultural income and income on services
such as doctors, retailers, salons etc – remains untaxed or under taxed –
and the list can go on; we all know about it, and that is why hardly
anything is new at seminars like the one this week.

The point is everybody is swimming naked under the tide; well,
almost everybody – which is a pretty gloomy picture. But now that the
public clamouring has begun there is hope; or so we think. Then again,
there is no hope in highlighting the same old issues over and over again

number of conferences and seminars across Pakistan. Lets shake up the society a little bit.

Lets find ways to bring in the politicians – those point-one
percent of the serious ones from each party and find champions within.
Lets also start naming and shaming the top tax evaders from each
business and economic segment of the society. Lets also bring in
farmers, retailers, doctors, salon and parlour owners and the whole lot
and ask them how long do they want to be out of the tax net. Lets
publish data pertaining to each business sector and each city – in terms
of the taxes they yield and the government spending they get. Lets also
convince media bosses to forget chasing the ratings for once and have
serious discourse on taxation and economics on TV. And lets have all
this across Pakistan in the umpteen different languages that we speak.

The fault may lie in the stars; but the fate lies in our hands.
Failure to take action now will only result in TARP after TARP, reform
commissions after reform commissions, and summits after summits until
the time when even gated residential schemes will not remain safe.

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