THE two hotly debated subjects at the moment and which also resonated in the National Assembly and Senate are the tax amnesty scheme unfurled by the government and the budget that the government is going to present before completion of its tenure. The major opposition parties have out- rightly rejected the tax amnesty scheme whereas there is also a permeating view that the government which only has two months left in its mandated period should not be presenting the budget for the next year and leave it to the coming government. Imran Khan as usual has threatened not to let the government present the budget. The opposition parties in a democratic dispensation have the right and responsibility to subject the government policies to incisive scrutiny and challenging them on a rational basis but unfortunately opposition in Pakistan means, destabilizing the incumbent government and rejecting anything that it tries to implement while fulfilling its duties as a representative govt. This is exactly what has transpired in the position taken by the opposition parties on both these issues.
As regards tax amnesty it is not something out of this world. This policy initiative has been tried the world over with varying success. People in every country tend to evade taxes and in certain cases park their illegal money in foreign countries. So the governments in these countries do resort to special measures to bring back as much money as possible to supplement the revenue collection measures put in place within the country. Countries in the Asian continent like Indonesia, Malaysia and India have also successfully implemented amnesty schemes. Indonesia through a similar scheme in 2016 netted $ 330 billion when 745,000 tax payers came forward to declare their assets. India also collected $ 10 billion in 2016 through a similar arrangement. Other countries including UK, Australia, Germany, Italy, South Africa and Chile to name a few, have also taken advantage of this option at different times. The biggest advantage of this policy initiative is that it increases tax revenue at a very low administrative cost and also helps to boost trust in the tax- paying public and drive for voluntary tax compliance. The scheme announced by Pakistan government has some positives and is reflective of its good intentions in regards to bringing back the black money and enhancing the tax base. No matter how many people avail this opportunity the country in any case will be getting something out of the money that is lying outside the country. Besides whatever amount is repatriated would help in boosting foreign exchange reserves and correcting the trade imbalance.
The measures to bring more people into the tax net are conceptually also beyond reproach. Development and welfare projects need revenues at the disposal of the government which come through taxes. The move to convert the ID cards into tax numbers and reducing the tax slabs are good and positive initiatives which will surely help in meeting the objective of a broader tax base as well as relief to salaried and lower income groups. It is a shame that in a country of 210 million only 0.7 million people pay income tax. Bringing more people in the domain of direct taxes would enable the government to reduce its reliance on indirect taxes which ultimately are a burden on the common man. As is evident the scheme is not without its merits and its outright rejection by the opposition has no rationale except opposition for the sake of opposition. It is perhaps pertinent to mention that the PPP had also announced amnesty scheme in 2008 and Imran Khan had also benefitted from the amnesty scheme during Musharraf era. The argument that the outgoing government does not have the right to present the budget for the next year and should not venture to do so is also absolutely flawed and irrational, more so the threat to thwart the presentation and passage of the budget. They fail to realize that the previous budget would run only up to 30th June and if no budget is passed for the next year before that and is left to the next government it would create a financial crisis in the country. The interim government in any case would not have the mandate to present a budget for the future government because as per the decision of the SC it cannot take major policy decisions except for ensuring the holding of election for transition of power. If the budget is not passed before the installation of the interim government how would it incur expenditure which has not been authorized by the proper forum i.e. Parliament.
Yet another thing totally neglected by the opponents is that the future government if it is other than the PML (N) would have the full authority to make necessary changes in the budget as per their own manifesto. Therefore, instead of creating hurdles in the presentation of the budget the opposition parties should make sure that the budget is presented and approved before the incumbent government goes out to accord legitimacy to the expenditure that would be required to be incurred for conducting the elections and running day to day government affairs. They need to set worth emulating democratic traditions to strengthen democracy in the country and refrain from indulging in disruptive politics. The madness and knack for political vendetta must come to an end. The PTI particularly would be well advised to abandon its culture of creating chaos and anarchy in the country and come up with a credible political manifesto and creed to win the franchise of the people. The country needs continuation of democracy as it was only through democracy that it could move forward. The people must be allowed to give their verdict regarding who rules the country on their behalf
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.