Avail the Amnesty & Sleep Peacefully!

By:

Omer Zaheer Meer,

CFA (USA), CPFA (UK), FCCA (UK), ACA (ICAEW – UK), AMLE (UK)

Links of Published Versions of Article:

The PM’s Counsel:

In a pre-recorded message released on social media and elsewhere, the Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the nation said that only 1% out of the 220 million Pakistanis bear the burden of taxes. He painfully shared that the nation is suffering, as many are not fulfilling their lawful duties and paying their due share to the State. PM Imran Khan also shared that the institutions now have information and are constantly getting more, implying that they have also developed the mechanism to identify and followup the tax evaders. The PM concluded by saying that this is the last chance to avail the recently launched tax amnesty till 30th June 2019 and sleep peacefully while also contributing to your nation. The spirit of the message is right.

Changing Times:

The times are surely changing for the taxation landscape in Pakistan with transnational cooperation from organizations such as OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), newer laws being enacted such as the Benami Act and the technology shaping the data-driven focus of the tax machinery.

What used to happen in the past was that either people used to connive with some corrupt officials or simply stay out of the tax net willfully to avoid full disclosure of their actual wealth, sales, expenses, e.t.c., while accumulating assets in their own, their family or trusted or controllable third party’s names. While this was very common, some people would simply behave in a similar manner due to ignorance of the laws and the resulting implications. This used to result in both the tax evasion as well as mis-declarations with often the use of benami transactions. The FBR, unfortunately, neither had the capacity nor the information to detect and/or take any penal action. Hence there was not much to worry for such people and they believed it was easier and perhaps “better” to continue with such practices. These notions stand to fail now.

Possible Nightmares:

Imagine this. You bought a good expensive property for your son or daughter in a posh area, perhaps Bahria Town Karachi or DHA Lahore. One day, you get the news that this same property led to the arrest of your beloved kid and the confiscation of the property. How would you feel?

Or alternatively imagine your father being arrested in front of you for not being able to justify the money trail of your hard earned empire. Or that loyal servant of yours being taken away for holding a benami for you while the property is getting confiscated, atleast partially. Nightmares? Yes. But the good news is that you can save yourself from all these and other troubling possibilities at a fraction of the cost that you may have to incur otherwise in such instances.

So it is only logical to avail the “Tax Amnesty” to both serve your interests as well as those of the country and be able to sleep peacefully as the PM told us.

Information, Capacity & Technology :

Pakistan is already receiving information courtesy of the OECD collaborations about the foreign properties, bank accounts and other assets of the Pakistani residents. Multiple FBR Chairmen in the past, have also claimed to have database of three to four million people without an NTN (national tax number) but enjoying a lavish life style with multiple foreign trips and/or assets in their name. As if this wasn’t sufficient, FBR has over time acquired the data as a result of the withholding tax regime. Last but not the least, the coordination between FBR, NADRA, FIA, e.t.c. is bound to make life difficult for the willful tax evaders as well as the ignorant culprits once the relevant drive is started.

Political Will & Penalty Provisions:

Chairman FBR has already shared his intention to launch a drive to catch tax evaders and mis-declarants post amnesty deadline of 30th June 2019. State Minister for Revenue, Mr. Hammad Azhar had shared about the integration of various databases which will certainly be used for such a drive. This is also supported by the fact that due to the filer/non-filer differential taxation regime and the withholding regime a lot of the data regarding immovable properties and other assets is already received by the FBR. It’s not like the past when the Federal Board of Revenue struggled for the data.

To make matters more “interesting” for tax evaders, the FBR issued the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Rules 2019 on 11th March 2019. With this, the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act 2017, came into force.

The practice of holding benami property — moveable or immoveable — plays a significant role in enabling tax evasion, money laundering and terror financing.

This law entails strict punishments for persons entering into benami transactions. Any person found guilty of the offence will be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of at least one year, which may extend to seven years, and a fine of up to 25 per cent of the fair market value of the property. The Income Tax Ordinance 2001, already contains severe punishments for mis-declarations and/or tax fraud which can range from heavy penalties to prosecution.

The Misconceptions:

A common misconception is that paying taxes and then buying a benami assets would be fine. Not paying taxes is one offence and holding a benami asset is another offence.

Another wrong notion held by many is that if you’re not earning taxable income or if your tax is already been deducted you do not need to hold an NTN or file your tax returns. They’re both wrong.

You have to get an NTN and file your return even if you don’t have a taxable income but own immovable property with a land area of two hundred and fifty square yards or more or owns any flat located in areas falling within the municipal limits existing immediately before the commencement of Local Government laws in the provinces; or areas in a Cantonment; or the Islamabad Capital Territory or even own a motor vehicle having engine capacity above 1000 CC or even have a  commercial or industrial connection of electricity where the amount of annual bill exceeds rupees 500,000.

There are thousands of property owners in each of the major housing societies such as DHA, Bahria Town and many other private ones in the major urban centers. How many of them have declared their affairs and even those who have, how many of them have the proper paper trail? All of them would be liable to punitive action under the above laws.

Your Last Chance:

Keeping in view of the above facts, the pressures on the national exchequer, the international and local collaborations and technological tools to use data analytics and the will of the Government to enforce the law, all these indicate that it is in the best interests of those who either because of being unaware of the law or even willfully, were in breach of the laws, should take this “golden” opportunity to avail the “Tax Amnesty” offered by the Asset Declaration Ordinance, 2019 whereby they can “whiten” their wealth, undeclared sales, expenses and/or the benami assets for as little as 1.5% only. Compare this to the potential tax and penalty costs which can be as much as 25% – 50% of the property value alongwith upto seven (7) years of rigorous imprisonment. So it is only logical to avail the “Tax Amnesty” to both serve your interests as well as those of the country and be able to sleep peacefully as the PM told us.

Technical Overview of the Amnesty: https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/pti-govts-tax-amnesty-past-facts-and-the-path-forward/

The writer is a leading economist and tax expert who holds five top professional finance, investment and accountancy qualifications CFA (USA), CPFA (UK), FCCA (UK), CA (ICAEW, UK) & Anti-Money Laundering Specialization along-with substantial experience and represents Pakistan on Global Tax Forum while sitting on the boards of several think-tanks. His profile can be accessed at: https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/about

To learn more about the amnesty or obtain professional advise:
http://www.mlcc.pk
Call: 042-37242434 / 042-37242612
Email: ozmeer@mlcc.pk




Technocrats Crises in PTI Government: Problems & Solutions

Links of Published Versions of Article:

Technocrats Crises in PTI Government:

Problems & Solutions

 By:

Omer Zaheer Meer

CFA (USA), CPFA (UK), FCCA (UK), ACA (ICAEW – UK), AMLE (UK)

Prelude:

The economy of Pakistan is in a quagmire with many naysayers painting a doomsday scenario. They’d like you to believe that rock bottom has been hit and there’s no way out. But that’s not true. The change promised by Prime Minister Imran Khan is very much deliverable. His famous and often quoted claim of a 100% increase in taxation revenues is practical and achievable. The solutions are there, out-of-box solutions which “Status  Quo” advisors & bureaucrats would never be able to conceive and/or want to implement. Read on to know more about it.

The fortune and the misfortune:

PM Imran Khan is very lucky as he has a repute of being extremely honest, hardworking and well-meaning. Even his political opponents admit this in private and try to criticize him by attacking his currently deputed team(s). It is a strange predicament for the reasons outlined below.

PTI is also very fortunate political party as it has accumulated the finest of talented Pakistanis including lot of able and proven technocrats. These are the same people who used to stay away from even casting their votes let alone getting indulged in politics. But to his credit, PM Imran Khan changed their way of thinking and made them believe in change. To appreciate the magnitude of this blessing, just realize this that even Zulifqar Ali Bhutto or our great Quaid e Azam did not have as many talented people at their disposal. They had to make do with whatever was available. Our father of the nation himself termed the people he had in his team as mostly “khote sikke”.

There is however a problem. There is no bridge between the PM and the talented people in PTI with the same fire in their hearts as him and the same faith in his vision and leadership as he do.

During its opposition years, the PTI established a shadow cabinet by the name of “National Policy Council”. It had different teams, each headed by a top technocrat to work on the challenges for specific key ministries

Nearer the Church, farther from God:

While, PM Imran Khan is working tirelessly to make things happen and for this looking everywhere to bring in people with technical expertise, for some unknown reasons, the same is overlooked within his party. The insiders within PTI circles confide that the appointments being made are largely based on groupings sans any merits with people having no technical expertise been nominated on highly technical positions in contradiction to the PM’s own vision.

Non-technocrat political workers can and should be accommodated in thousands of non-technical positions. The technical positions however should be left for the technical members of PTI for these positions not only demand highly specialized skill sets but will also determine the outcome and legacy of PM Imran Khan’s government.

There should be a mechanism to identify and link the technocrats within PTI with the leadership in a non-partisan manner. Perhaps, some neutral technocrat within PTI would be best suited for this endeavor to avoid groupings and factions impacting the process.

The three keys to success:

There are three key requisites for success in achieving the PM’s dream of reforms. Normally the discussions about reforms and particularly the keenly discussed topic of reforming the revenue authorities and infrastructure, focuses on competency of key personnel, which is certainly important. What’s missing though, are couple of other equally vital bits.  They’re:

  • party affiliation so there is belief in the vision of the PM and
  • out of box thinking of a doer

The Enigmatic Resemblance:

There’s an uncanny resemblance between the untapped Pakistan with all the gifts of the nature, be it gold, copper, oil, coal, e.t.c. or the unexplored potential of tourism and PTI as a political party filled with all these untapped gifted professionals waiting to be utilized for the good of the country. This resemblance is enigmatic.

Like the symbols, the cures of the diseases are also similar. PTI, just like Pakistan, needs to explore its untapped resources of great minds of technocrats within.

The Reworked Bhutto Solution:

Despite all his ills and issues, Bhutto is normally billed as a genius; some even call him an evil genius for that matter. Irrespective of which side of the divide you are, one thing is for sure that the man knew politics and ground realities of South Asia.

Isn’t it astounding that almost four decades after his demise, he’s still alive in the hearts of millions despite all that unruly and disastrous stuff that has been done in his name, more so in Sindh than elsewhere? What is the magic about him then? Well there are a few. We’ll be discussing briefly the one concerning the topic at hand.

Bhutto famously appointed PPP workers at all key positions claiming that as people voted for his party to implement the agenda, only those loyal to that agenda can help achieve that. He questioned the loyalty and “merits” of the bureaucracy, e.t.c. He did go overboard to the extreme of appointing people solely on the basis of this criterion, leading to often incompetent or illiterate persons on key positions. Still, lessons derived from this can be used to put in motion the “reworked Bhutto solution”.

PTI’s Technocrats:

The solutions should simply involve using a mechanism to identify top quality technocrats within PTI and appointing them at key positions to implement PM Imran Khan’s vision. Care must be taken to ensure that technical competence, relevant experience, out of box thinking, knowledge of the local workings and a proven track record are there. It is vital that the processes be built and run by able technocrats within PTI and not those bound to oblige their groups sans merit.

FBR’s new Chairman:

Just this week, the new Chairman of FBR was announced and notified amid much hue and cry. Mr. Zaidi, a respected Chartered Accountant having no known previous affiliation with PTI and an ex Cabinet Member of the Caretaker Sindh Government setup primarily nominated by the PPP, was the choice. This speaks volume about the problem we’ve been discussing.

The idea was that someone “neutral” and “competent” from the private sector must be tried, having already tried both customs and income tax group officials as well as bureaucrats from other segments, without anyone delivering the “success” and “reforms” desired. However it resulted in two major issues.

The first problem stems from the manner in which this was executed. It’s hard to imagine how nobody was able to point out the famous “Ali Arshad Hakeem” case and take the then incumbent Chairman FBR as well as the board members into confidence before the announcement.

PM Imran Khan, being his bold and confident self, did the best possible to salvage a dire situation.

More importantly, this perfectly showcases the issue of being “nearer the church, farther from God”. The appointment practically meant that PTI felt it did not have anyone of a caliber matching Mr. Zaidi let alone be better. With all due regards to Mr. Zaidi, that is not the case and this is why PTI needs to get its house in order.

PTI National Policy Council Revenue Team:

During its opposition years, PTI established as shadow cabinet by the name of “National Policy Council”. It had different teams, each headed by a top technocrat to work on the challenges for specific key ministries. I was honored to Chair the “Revenue Team”.

Link of National Policy Council Notification

As Chairman of this team, I should disclose that PTI had a full fledge Revenue team working on reforms agenda which continuously and successfully assisted the leadership for several years including during the tough period of being in opposition. The work involved besides other areas, identifying both the major issues and their solutions concerning our taxation framework. Some of the proposals were even shared with other countries in a similar state of affairs as Pakistan at Global forums and these were hugely appreciated. This untapped treasure of PTI should be utilized and implemented. The details of such proposals shall be shared in my future write-ups so keep watching this space.

 Omer Zaheer Meer is a leading economist and tax expert who holds five top professional finance, investment and accountancy qualifications including anti-money laundering specialization along-with substantial experience and represents Pakistan on Global Tax Forum. His profile can be accessed at: https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/about

 

Speaker and Panelist at Historic & Inaugural Annual Dinner & Conference at MTBA

  • Represented ACCA at the prestigious, historical & inaugural event as Chair ACCA Taxation Committee.
  • Made a keynote presentation and participation in a panel discussion at Multan Tax Bar Association
  • Topic:  Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, AI, Big-Data, e.t.c. & the Challenges for Modern Accountants, Regulators & Tax Practitioners
  • Furthered the relationship built with the 3rd largest Tax Bar in Pakistan

  • ACCA recognized and appreciated as Tax Knowledge Partner
  • Presentation greatly appreciated by all including FBR Official, Office Bearers of almost a dozen bars, participants, the host bar, e.t.c.
  • Offered to conduct CPDs for ICAP members by senior-most ICAP member at MTBA in collaboration with ACCA.
  • Outstanding feedback & offers for collaboration
  • Increased local foot-print for ACCA
  • ACCA established as a forward-thinking and tax-expert body
  • Brand visibility & recognition as knowledge partner for ACCA
  • Increased opportunities for Accountants particularly ACCA fraternity

MTBA Event

Please feel free to interact and share your kind feedback:

Email:             ozmeer@mlcc.pk

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Building the Future – Contributing to the Society & Profession

Mr. Meer at one of the top Universities of the Country, at the conclusion of the semester for MBA Finance. He also guided them with important professional and career advisory, sacrificing his weekends for several months.

Outstanding feedback with smiles all around. He has been requested by the CR to continue for the next semester  along-with praise from the HOP & Director.

He shared:

” Glad to have delivered knowledge, skills & expertise for them to contribute in building a better Pakistan & World Insha’Allah!”

CF 4

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The Moments – Exceptional Public Value Award (ACCA)

The exact moments of Mr. Omer Zaheer Meer receiving the prestigious “Exceptional Public Value Award”, granted by ACCA, the largest global accountancy body, in recognition of his outstanding services for the profession and fraternity.

OZM’s Introduction

Ms. Helen Brand, the CEO of ACCA specially flew in from UK and bestowed the honor herself. Mr. Haroon Jan, the Regional Head of Members Affairs is seen accompanying Ms. Brand while Mr. Hammad Azim, the Country Head of Marketing is himself making the announcement.

A proud moment for global accountancy profession, particularly for the ACCA fraternity as well as for Pakistan!

Please feel free to interact and share your kind feedback:

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Session on Taxation with “Think Ahead with ACCA”

Below is another session on “Taxation” with “Think Ahead with ACCA”.

Honored to be back again on the platform, after doing the record-breaking inaugural program on #CPEC with #ACCA, the largest global accountancy body.

Hope this delivers value.

Please feel free to interact and share your kind feedback:

Email:             ozmeer@mlcc.pk

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Taxation Trends in Pak in the Need for Reforms

The following write-up was published in the Jan-Mar 2018 Quarterly Edition of “Policy Insights”, the largest global accountancy body ACCA’s regional publication covering MENASA

Link: ACCA’s Policy Insights’ Published Link

Link: Main Page

Fiscal Reform: Taxation Trends in Pak in the Need for Reforms

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

Taxation laws are set of laws to derive revenues for the Government to function & service the citizens with the aim of improving their quality of life while continuously improving the facilities and infrastructures provided. Pakistan has a complex taxation system with a focus on indirect taxes with over 70 different taxes. This has led to several sets of laws dealing with specific taxation areas. Below are some major issues highlighted in need for major fiscal reforms:

  • Extremely Low Numbers of Income Tax Returns Filers:

From approximately 1.32 million income tax returns filers in tax year 2016 to fewer than 1.3 million as per last available data in 2017 is an area of major concern. In a country of over 220 million, this amounts to just 0.6% of the total population.

  • Undocumented, Black economy:

This builds up from the above issue of low return filers. A larger proportion of the economy, some estimates put the number close to 100% of the GDP. This by any standard is massive and a point of major concern.

  • Taxation Complexities and Ease of Doing Business:

As mentioned above, Pakistan has a very complex tax system and the recently released data by the World Bank has placed the country on a ranking of 147 out of 190. The complex, non-harmonized and multi-layered laws in operations not only make it more expensive but also time-consuming for the businesses.

  • Harmonization Issues:

The issue of lack of harmonization among various laws increased many-fold post the devolution of Sales Tax on Services regulation and administration to the provinces and each Province setting up its own Revenue Authority for the same. In an era, when countries are agreeing to facilitating arrangements on the likes of European Economic Area, making borders irrelevant in terms of economic activities, Pakistani businesses are facing the traditional challenges while expanding their businesses in other provinces within the same country.

  • High Costs of taxation:

In addition to having one of the most complex taxation systems in the world, Pakistan also has high taxation rates compared to other countries in the region. Furthermore the taxation rates are also several times that of the cost of tax avoidance in the country, making it an attractive proposition for some businesses to keep operating beyond the radar of the legal economy. Moreover, the highly complex nature of the taxation regimes also translates into further costs for taxpayers in terms of the time and administration required to ensure compliance.

  • Structural Issues:

The structural issues including confusing and highly subjective laws, focus on indirect taxes, the improvable systems, mal-practices, singular focus on revenue collection, harassment of the existing taxpayers rather than using the same resources to focus on expanding the tax base and a general ill-perception have all contributed to the current state of affairs and needs to be reformed if the situation is to improve.

  • Conclusion:

The above issues are requiring serious efforts to address the critical issues concerning the taxpayers particularly the businesses in the country. With CPEC and its associated possibilities materializing, now is a good time to ensure these reforms are put to action to achieve the full potential of not only the existing economy but also the developments accruing. We’ll discuss the possible proposals for reforms in the next issue. Till then, we leave our readers to ponder over these issues.

 

The writer is a leading economist who is also a qualified chartered certified accountant, chartered financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He’s sits on the Global Tax Forum of ACCA and is the sitting Chairman Liaison Committee of LTBA and ACCA’s Taxation Committee in Pakistan. He can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Recognising our regular contributors…
Nayeema Bashar receives a certificate of appreciation and Omer Zaheer Meer wins Pakistan’s national Member Advocacy Award.