By Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq
The recently-published tax directory of legislators not only sadly reflects on the financial affairs of majority of the senators and members of national and provincial assemblies but also raises serious questions on the distressing enforcement capabilities of the apex revenue authority, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). After February 28, 2014, the last deadline (sic) set by the FBR, there were still nearly fifty federal and provincial lawmakers who did not bother to file their tax returns or even obtain National Tax Number (NTN). It is not understandable how these tax delinquents were allowed to contest the elections, and why no disqualification proceedings have been initiated now after established default.
According to analysis of data released by FBR on February 28, 2014 at its website, http://download1.fbr.gov.pk/Docs/20142281721048798PARLIMENTARIANSTAXDIRECTORY2013Dt.28.02.2014.pdf, legislators from National Assembly that failed to comply with income tax law include
Basit Bokhari (PPP),
Asghar Ali Shah (PPP),
Amin Faheem (PPP),
Shahjahan Baloch (PPP) and
Kamal Bangulzai of National Party (NP).
The members of the Punjab Assembly include
Shabbir Ahmed (PML-N),
Bilal Bhatti (PML-N),
Shamona Badshah Qaisrani (PML-N),
Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani (PML-N),
Muhammad Zishan Gurmani (independent),
Muhammad Sibtain Raza (independent),
Ihsanul Haq Bajwa (PML-N),
Mian Islam Aslam (PML-N) and
Makhdoom Syed Ali Akbar Mehmood (PPP).
The non-filers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly are
Shah Faisal Khan (independent),
Gohar Nawaz Khan (independent),
Abdul Haq Khan (independent),
Abdul Sattar Khan (PML-N),
Israrullah Khan (independent) and
Qaimos Khan (PML-N).
From Sindh Assembly are
Ajiaz Shah Bukhari (PPP),
Mir Allah Bux Talpur (PPP),
Nawaz Chandio (PPP),
Muhammad Ali Malkani (independent) and
Mohammad Yousuf Shahwani (MQM).
There is only one non-filer from the Balochistan Assembly,
Rahat Jamali (PML-N).
It is worth mentioning that scores of legislators did not file returns in time as required under the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 and FBR never bothered to take any action against them despite the fact that details of assets and liabilities were notified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). In the wake of immense pressure from media and fear of being exposed after publication of Tax Directory, they were left with no choice but to obtain NTNs, submit the returns and pay tax. For example, Muhammad Ali Rashid (MQM), MNA from Karachi, paid nothing initially but afterwards deposited substantial amount of Rs 1,230,872. The questions remains how FBR relaxed law in their case and why no action has been taken under the law for delayed filing or non-filing of returns-it means law for the privileged classes is different from the ordinary citizens.
In the category of late-filers among senators who paid no tax included Abdul Rauf of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Mir Israrullah Zehri of Balochistan National Party Awami (BNP-A) and Azam Khan Hoti (Awami National Party or ANP). Details of other legislators are: Nawabzada Akber Magsi (independent) paid Rs 28,091, Muhammad Idrees Khan Safi Rs 8,331, Farhat Abbas (PPP) paid Rs 46,437 and Zahida Khan (ANP) Rs 28,092. Aqibullah of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) elected from Swabi and Engineer Dawar Khan Kundi (PTI) from Dera Ismail Khan, Colonel did not pay any tax. Amirullah Marwat (PTI) from Lakki Marwat paid Rs 8,400, Sardar Muhammad Irfan Dogar (PML-N) Rs 28,530, Hafiz Abdul Kareem (PML-N) Rs 190,000, and Moulvi Agha Muhammad of Jamiat Ulemae Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) Rs 28,526, Faqir Sher Muhammad Bilaiani (PPP) elected from Tharparkar, Roshan Din Junejo (PPP) from Sanghar, and Mehmood Khan Achakzai (PMAP) from Quetta paid nothing. The belated filers from Punjab Assembly are Iftikhar Ahmad Khan (PML-N) from Jhang (Rs 8,394), Raey Mansab Ali (PML-N) (nil), Chaudhry Muhammad Arshad (PML-N) from Sahiwal (nil) and Haroon Sultan Bokhari (PML-N) from Muzaffargarh (Rs 9,355). The members of the KPK Assembly, who filed tax returns after first deadline, include Jamshed Khan (independent) (nil) elected from Mardan, Muhammad Sheeraz (PML-N) elected from Swabi (nil), Samiullah (independent) from Dera Ismail Khan, Javed Akbar Khan from Dera Ismail Khan (Rs 6,344), Mufti Fazal Ghafoor (JUI-F) from Bunair (nil), Fazal Hakim (PTI) (nil), Muhibullah Khan (PTI) from Swat (nil) and Siraj-ul-Haq (Jamaat-i-Islami) from Lower Dir (nil). Muhammad Jawaid of the Sindh Assembly elected from Karachi paid no tax.
Section 42A of the Representation of People Act, 1976 and section 25A of the Senate (Election) Act, 1975 make it mandatory for the elected representatives to file in the prescribed manner details of their assets and liabilities on the closing date of each financial year, failure to fulfil this obligation leads to disqualification. It is shocking that neither ECP nor FBR fulfilled their obligations to enforce the respective laws. It confirms that institutions in Pakistan have become dysfunctional. This is leading towards crumbling of entire state. Law is not taking its course against the rich and mighty that is the biggest malady faced by Pakistan.
Non-compliance of section 116 of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 requiring filing of wealth statements and declaration of personal expenses in the prescribed manner for all individuals having income of Rs 100,000 or more attracts Article 63(1)(o) of the Constitution but ECP will obviously take no action unless any complaint is received or case is filed in the competent court of jurisdiction.
It is high time for FBR and National Accountability bureau (NAB) to scrutinise the returns filed by the legislators vis-à-vis declarations filed before the ECP and lifestyle enjoyed by them under their respective laws. The name and shame game in tax matters, however, should not be confined to the members of parliament alone. It must cover all the powerful segments of society. It must also include declarations of assets, liabilities and taxes paid by judges and high-ranking civil and military officials.
The so far unsuccessful efforts of MNA Asad Umar (PTI) to table a motion for investigation into non-payment of taxes by lawmakers are laudable. His motion filed under Rule 244, blocked twice, reads: “That a special committee, consisting of not more than ten members, belonging to major political parties, may be constituted by the Honourable Speaker to investigate the allegation of non-payment of taxes by a number of parliamentarians and report within 90 days”.
The issue of tax declarations of holders of public offices and high-ranking State functionaries should be dealt under the law. There should be a Parliamentary Standing Committee for each house on Asset Disclosures & Investigation. FBR should be obliged under law to convey to this Committee all the declarations filed by holders of public offices and high-ranking civil-military officials. The Committee should have powers to compare declarations filed under the Civil Servants Act, 1973, Army Act, 1952 and related rules, Representation of People Act, 1976, the Senate (Election) Act, 1975, Rule 4 of the Political Parties Rules, 2002 with those filed under the Income Tax Law. In case of any discrepancies or complaint of suppression and concealment, the Committee could ask FBR, NAB, Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), competent military authorities, as the case may be, to take action under the law.
For judges, we should follow India where all judges of Supreme Court and High Courts place their assets every year on website for public information and judicial accountability. Our judges are treated as sacred cows and above accountability and even audit by competent authority. This is strange that judges who adjudge others do not make public their assets and avoid external audit of funds provided to them.
The process of accountability in Pakistan must start with scrutinising of declaration of assets, liabilities and taxes paid by politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges. The civil society and media should come forward to force the legislators to enact comprehensive Freedom of Information Law with fool-proof implementation process for meaningful implementation of Article 19A of the Constitution making it mandatory to make public their assets and liabilities. This step will not only expose the rich and mighty who have amassed wealth but have failed to pay taxes under the law, but will also help to promote the much-needed tax culture.