On a recent talk show, Mr Jehangir Tareen talked about culture of tax evasion in Pakistan, where out of 180 million only 0.5 Million, apart from salaried class (1.2 million), file any tax returns or pay any tax. Such a pathetic situation could not have survived without consent and connivance of all those who have been in power, the paid civil bureaucracy, the judiciary and our political parties. This country has been ruled, or misruled, by khakis, politicians, technocrats and no concrete efforts have been put in place to force the rich to pay their due taxes. On contrary everybody, inclusive of our expatriate technocrats, such as Moeen Qureshi, Shaukat Aziz etc who came with a brief case and except for pep talk, left us in a more precarious state, as far as tax evasion is concerned. There have been numerous reports and seminars by think tanks, NGOs and consultants funded by donor agencies, without any change on the ground. As long as tax evasion and those guilty of cheating, or abetting this crime are not given exemplary punishments, nobody will pay any taxes. Mere enactment of laws does not yield any benefits, if there is no political will to implement them. We live in a country where more than 60,000 containers exited from KPT Karachi and went missing, yet our FBR in their investigation absolved all of its senior officers of any complicity in a scam which involved several billions in tax evasion. Those investigating this highly publicised scam failed to question the means to justify huge assets of top FBR bureaucrats located not just in Pakistan but abroad. This is a failure of not just our parliament but all our investigation agencies, be it FIA ,or others more powerful than it, not to realize that this is the biggest threat to our national security and state sovereignty. We are forced to compromise on both and seek excessive foreign aid, which we could have curtailed, had the state not failed to collect taxes. Loopholes exist to facilitate tax evasion and massive flight of capital. In the rare case where a leading money changer was arrested for money laundering, everybody got away, because most of beneficiaries were those in power. It does not matter to them if Pakistan has been blacklisted amongst the five nations accused of money laundering by international agencies. From the rise of extremism, to street crime, heroin and drug use, to compromises of our national security, all could be curtailed if the state was capable to provide welfare, health and education in this country. Although corruption is a worldwide phenomenon, it rises exponentially when the executive and its institutions are itself involved in institutionalised corruption and protecting those who evade taxes. While tax collection has declined, rise in tax free benefits of the elite has risen. Nowhere in the world would people pay taxes, if they were not forced to do so, because of fear of severe punishments. A state functions only if taxes are collected, otherwise every function of the government collapses.
MALIK TARIQ ALI,
Lahore, February 19.