ISLAMABAD: Taking his words as a guide, Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to make Pakistan a welfare state much like Scandinavian countries. While his government is far from realising this dream, a step taken in this regard during the PML-N government also appears to be on the stage of rollback. This is related to the tax record, which was made public bracketing Pakistan with Sweden, Norway and Finland.
From 2014 onward, two directories were being published by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) — one containing information about the annual income tax paid by the lawmakers, and the other with details of all tax filers in Pakistan. The directories would be published the latest by May-June, but this year inordinate delay has occurred and the FBR is non-committal about its publication. The News spoke to the FBR officials three times on different occasions inquiring about the publication date. The first such contact was made in July, but the then-spokesperson did not offer any precise time frame. “This decision of directory is to be taken by the FBR chairman, and then handled by Member FATE (Facilitation and Taxpayer Education Wing).” Then in September, The News contacted FBR chairman who said his department was working on it.
When the FBR spokesperson was approached now, he said the chairman contracted COVID-19 and any approval in this respect was pending his recovery. “Since this involves policy decision, the files would be put before him once he returns to office,” said Asad Tahir Jappa, the spokesperson.
He said he was involved in more important tasks than this. Another cause of delay is the leadership, he said, as the new chairman has recently been appointed in August this year. With October closing, the publication of the directory seems to face further delays making it less likely to be done this year.
Tax data was made public by the Nawaz Sharif government after The News did a couple of series in 2013 and 2014 unmasking the tax information of lawmakers. By then, many of the lawmakers were either without National Tax Number or didn’t have filed tax returns. Then finance minister Ishaq Dar took strong exception to this and issued a deadline ordering FBR to register for NTN to those lawmakers who were out of net, and directed the non-filing members to submit tax returns in case they wanted their names in the directory.
April 15, 2014 was a historic day when Pakistan joined the rank of countries where tax data is made public as the directory containing tax information of all filers was published. This followed the publication of the tax directory of parliamentarians on June 9 that year. From then on, the practice remained in progress till last year, and the government seems to have abandoned this plan now. This is what non-committal responses of the FBR officials suggest.
People in Finland call November 1 as “national envy day” when tax information is published. Exact year is not known, but this is decades old practice in Finland. Norway has published tax returns since 1863 when they were posted on town halls walls. Anyone could request tax data anonymously. In Sweden, a single call to tax authorities is enough to find out what someone has paid. Almost all income tax details are public, and Swedish media often publish lists of the highest earners. These policies are said to be rooted in cultural traditions. The Swedish concept of the “law of jante”, which means no one is special or should stand out, is behind this practice.
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