Prescription for Increasing Tax Revenues

Tax Revenue

By:

Omer Zaheer Meer,

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

           Prof DP 051918 original

Links of Published Versions of Article:

Preamble:

Taxation is an extremely important source of funding for any state to finance the running of the Governmental functions. Even the oil rich Arab states recognized the importance of this and started to shift towards a lasting economy with citizens contributing to the national treasury with their share of the taxes. To put it simply, in all global economies, there is both direct and indirect taxation (in different combinations). Direct taxation is a tax directly levied on an individual or institution’s income while indirect taxation entails taxes on products and services whereby consumers are made to pay taxes when they consume these.

Taxation is therefore an essential subject warranting attention from all concerned. In this write-up we’ll identify key issues in this regard and propose solutions to solve them amicably which have been presented by this writer at various think-tanks and as Chairman of taxation committees of key professional bodies such as ACCA. These have been published and publicized but unfortunately still awaiting implementation by the decision makers.

In developed countries, realizing that taxation is necessary for providing them with necessary facilities, most citizens contribute their share to the state finances. The situation is different in developing countries, being marred with corruption and mismanagement; there is a lack of public trust by the masses demanding evidence of delivery before they’re willing to pay their due share. As if that wasn’t enough the subjective nature of taxation laws resulting in harassment and the structural tilt towards indirect taxation further erodes the confidence of the populace in the taxation system.

With all the natural resources at our disposal, a high proportion of population being young and hardworking and with cheap labour availability, a fairer system of taxation culminating into a fairer economic policy can provide the necessary environment to harness the economic potential of Pakistan

As a result of the above, the unresolved challenge faced by Pakistan on the taxation revenue shortfall front isn’t that surprising. A culture of tax avoidance has long engulfed the business horizons. An ongoing cat and mouse fight between the tax authorities and the taxpayers, with the later believing that it would be a waste to pay off their tax bills due to the deep pockets of the corrupt government officials, harassment emanating from the taxation system and/or lack of public services. The FBR officials, on the other hand, feel overwhelmed and underappreciated with issues of career paths, promotions and understaffing.

While the FBR officials rightly point out that no state can perform the necessary duties with the empty coffers, the tax payers also strongly put forward the argument that they don’t see any real delivery of essential services but instead are greeted with stories of herculean corruption rife all around coupled with undue persecution once they enter the tax net. Hence, there seems to be a massive break-down of trust between the taxpayers and the “tax-man”.

This serious trust deficit in Pakistan has lead to a difficult situation where finance ministry overemphasizes on indirect taxation to try to bolster its coffers.  Unfortunately this approach has serious negative ramifications for Pakistan’s economy and people which has manifested in worsening the already declining economic situation of the country.

Another misconception is that since only 0.66% of the total population files their income tax returns, hence majority of the people do not pay any taxes. On the contrary, Pakistanis are taxed indirectly on just about everything. However, this way of collecting taxes indirectly leads to a regressive system where those earning more pay a lower proportion of their income as taxes and it results in inflationary pressures within the economy as the increased costs translates into increased prices for just about everything including the commonly used commodities. The effects are hyper-inflationary in nature because there is a multiplicative rather than an additive element in the inflation passed-on at every level.

The mess created by the taxation policies pursued by the previous governments needs to be undone. What is critical to achieving the success in taxation reforms is to restore the faith of the taxpayers by implementing a multi-dimensional tax reforms agenda, where:

  • The biggest harassment tool of the “fishing” audits should be eliminated. Instead the audits should be limited to the cases where either there is specific information and/or the taxpayer is taking some benefit from the state such as an exemption or refund.
  • An alternate can be the introduction of an incentive based system introducing an option of no audit in case of payment of 25% higher tax compared to last year. Such measures have proven to be success in the past.
  • Focus should be shifted on using e-systems like “STRIVE” for verification of withholding taxes and their deposits in the treasury.
  • Issues of FBR such as under staffing, lack of full automation and career prospects along-with just compensation should be properly addressed.
  • Taxpayers should be facilitated by making the processes easier and fairer, focusing on maximum automation in order to stem out corruption.
  • Instead of increasing the tax rates the tax net should be constantly widened.
  • More focus should be given to direct taxation, with more affluent contributing more to the treasury.
  • Meaningful tax rebates and reliefs should be introduced for the less able sections of the society.
  • Certain exempt sectors should be brought into the tax-net (subsidies can be given for assisting any under-pressure areas).
  • Tax rebates and incentives should be focused to encourage foreign/local investments in key sectors with tax-breaks for transfer of technology, e.t.c. as may be required in a particular sector.
  • Tax money should be seen to be actually spent on public welfare and infrastructure projects, which will improve the spending capacity and the business environment in Pakistan.
  • The massive corruption in public contracts/projects, now routinely in the range of 20-40% of tender values, should be eradicated for better and efficient use of public money through revamping the pay and accountability structures.

With all the natural resources at our disposal, a high proportion of population been young and hardworking and cheap labor availability, a fairer system of taxation culminating into a fairer economic policy can provide the necessary environment to harness the economic potential of Pakistan.

The key reforms outlined above, if properly implemented, can resolve the current enigma facing the treasury. Should such reforms be made with reliance on local resources and a will for change, there is no reason, why Pakistan cannot stand on its own feet and become an economic hub not only for the region but the whole world.

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

 

PTI Govt’s Tax Amnesty:  Past facts and the path forward

Tax Amnesty

PTI Govt’s Tax Amnesty: 

Past facts and the path forward

By:

Omer Zaheer Meer,

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

IMG-20180911-WA0016.jpg

Links of Published Versions of Article:

Tax Amnesties in Pakistan:

The first ever and one of the more successful tax amnesty schemes in Pakistan was launched during Ayub Khan’s era in 1958. It resulted in a collection of approximately PKR 1.12 billion which equaled to US $ 0.24 billion approximately and around 71,289 people came within the tax net by making declarations. General Yahya Khan also launched a tax amnesty scheme in 1969 but ended up adding only 19,600 taxpayers with declared assets of just PKR 920 million. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s tax amnesty in 1976 saw the number of people declaring assets decline drastically with assets worth only PKR 270 million declared. The scheme by General Zia’s government was a disaster. The PMLN government’s tax amnesty scheme in 1997 could add assets of PKR 141 million only.

In 2000 General Musharraf’s amnesty resulted in assets declaration of $3 billion approximately and has been the most successful one in terms of revenue collection. Prior to this, in the three tax amnesty schemes by PML- government, only 128 people declared their assets. Later on, PMLN’s 2016 tax amnesty saw just 10,000 declarations and a meager PKR 0.85 billion declared. However, the 2018 amnesty by PMLN was able to garner closer to a $ 1 billion but didn’t result in any significant change in the tax compliance culture. This shows that the disease of tax evasion and the curse of black money has been engulfing Pakistan since its early years.

Recently, there has been a lot of hue and cry over the Assets Declaration Ordinance, 2019 by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Government that is commonly referred to as the “Amnesty Scheme”. The opposition has termed this as an opportunity for the near and dear ones of the Government to whiten their “black monies” which is factually incorrect as the political office holders and those related to them are barred from this scheme. Similarly, the opposition is also claiming it to be a copy of the amnesty scheme introduced by PMLN. As a result of these accusations, there is a lot of confusion as to what exactly is this scheme, is it any different from the last one by PMLN Government and whether it can help the stated objective of helping in the widening of the tax base. Let us briefly examine these questions in this write-up in an objective manner.

 Overview of the Assets Declaration Ordinance, 2019 (The Amnesty):

The above titled ordinance has been promulgated allowing undisclosed, unreported and/or under-reported assets, sales and/or expenditures upto 30th June 2018 and/or the “benami” assets acquired or held on or before the date of declaration to be legally declared for the payment of very low “taxes”.

The Scope is clarified in the section “3” of the ordinance as below:

“Subject to the provisions of this Ordinance, any person may make, on or before 30th June, 2019, a declaration only in respect of any—

  • undisclosed assets, held in Pakistan and abroad, acquired up to 30th June, 2018
  • undisclosed sales made up to 30th June, 2018
  • undisclosed expenditure incurred up to 30th June, 2018; or
  • benami assets acquired or held on or before the date of declaration;”

“The Prime Minister still enjoys tremendous trust in his personal integrity and also retains his charisma, but the general atmosphere of uncertainty is severely damaging”

Important Conditions for the Declaration

  • Any cash held in Pakistan which is to be declared will have to be deposited into the declarant’s bank account(s) and kept in the account(s) till atleast June 30, 2019.
  • Any foreign liquid assets repatriated to Pakistan under the scheme are required to be deposited into declarant’s own bank account(s) locally or invested in Pakistan Banao certificates or any foreign currency denominated bonds, issued by the Federal Government.
  • Any foreign liquid assets declared but not repatriated back to Pakistan under the scheme, in addition to being taxed at higher rate, must be deposited into the declarant’s foreign bank account(s) on or before 30th June 2019.

The Exclusions

Importantly, the ordinance or as it is commonly referred to as, the amnesty is not applicable to the following:

  1. holders of public office and their dependents as well as any of their benamidars if applicable,
  2. a public company as defined under clause 47 of section 2 of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001;
  3. matters where proceedings are pending in the court of law,
  4. matters where the proceedings have attained finality under the respective tax laws,
  5. matters where the proceeds or assets involved are derived from a criminal offence,
  6. gold and precious stones,
  7. bearer prize bonds and
  8. bearer assets

TAX RATES AND VALUES

 

Class of Assets/Income/

Expense

 

Value

 

Applicable

Tax Rates

 

Domestic Immovable Properties – Land

Higher of the 150% of value prescribed by the FBR under section 68 of ITO or 150% of DC value

 

1.5%

Domestic Immovable Properties – Constructed Atleast 150% DC value where FBR value has not been notified for constructed property 1.5%
 

Foreign Liquid Assets not repatriated

Higher of the Fair Market Value or cost, determined using  exchange rates prevalent at the  declaration date.

 

6%

 

Foreign Liquid Assets            Actual Value  Repatriated

 

                                4%

 

Unexplained Expenditure

Higher of the Fair Market Value or cost

 

4%

 

Undisclosed Sales                   Actual Value

 

                                 2%

 

All assets except domestic immovable properties

 

                                 4%

Timeline

While the declaration needs to be made by 30th June 2019, the tax can be deposited later by paying additional amount of default surcharge other than the tax rates discussed above, as outlined below:

Default Surcharge

 Sr. No        Time of payment of Tax

 

 

Default Surcharge Rate

1.       01st July 2019 to 30th September, 2019

 

   10%

2.       01st October 2019 to 31st December, 2019    20%
3.       01st January 2020 to 31st March, 20120     30%
4.       01st April 2020 to 30th June, 2020     40%

Miscellaneous Provisions:

Confidentiality

While maintain confidentiality of declarations under the ordinance is required but unlike the Previous Scheme, there are no provisions in the Ordinance for imposition of fine / for imprisonment of any person in breach of confidentiality provisions.

Protection from Prosecution

The contents of the “amnesty” declaration(s) cannot be admitted as evidence(s) against the declarants(s) for the purpose of any proceedings relating to imposition of penalty or for the purpose of prosecution under any law.

 Anti-Abuse Provision

An important anti-abuse provision, which was not included in the previous scheme by PMLN is that the declarants won’t be able to claim any allowance, credit or deduction in respect of the assets declared and incorporated in the books in consequence of such declaration. In simple terms, this would mean positive impact re tax compliance in future.

Key differences as compared to the PMLN’s Amnesty:

Below are the key differences of this current “amnesty” scheme as compared to the PMLN Government’s amnesty scheme:

  1. The requirement to deposit any cash in local or foreign bank accounts would mean that the fraudulent declaration made by exaggeration with the hopes of continuing the mal-practices in future with having the “buffer” of excess declared cash to “cover” the future revenue streams would end.
  2. The anti-abuse provision discussed above.
  3. Inclusion of broader categories of income streams, assets, expenses and sales within the scope.
  4. More impetus of fairer and market values as evident from 150% of FBR or DC values’ requirements mentioned above.
  5. Comparatively higher rates of tax.
  6. Introduction of timeline for “late” payments with default surcharges.
  7. Lack of penal clause in case of the breach of confidentiality.
  8. Some of the exclusions.

 The reservations, impact and the way forward:

There is a well supported argument that any amnesty, generally speaking sends out a wrong message to the masses and businesses in particular as effectively the wrongdoers ends up getting a better deal without any severe reprimand. This has psychological and practical ramifications for compliance in the long term.

However, at times the economic situation does require the use of such schemes. There were other better options to achieve the stated goals of this scheme. However, there are certain things which are positive about this scheme including the requirements to deposit the cash in the bank, the focus on fair market values, introduction of later payments with default surcharges and the anti abuse provision. Certainly, there is always room for improvement and this scheme could have been made even better.

The most important challenge however would be to address the uncertainty. While, Prime Minister Imran Khan still enjoys tremendous trust in terms of his personal integrity and also retains his charisma, the general atmosphere is one of uncertainty which is severely damaging. Unfortunately, this is mostly stemming from an un-accountable media spree of speculations and negative reporting in general baring a few exceptions. To make the point, let us recall that the last amnesty by the PMLN Government only really took off when the CJP announced that the court was not to review it leading to the confidence of the potential declarants. So firstly, this uncertainty needs to be curbed for this scheme to be successful.

Secondly, the relevant authorities need to run public campaigns and demonstrate that they have the information gained via OECD multilateral convention about Pakistani residents’ offshore accounts and are further strengthening the mechanism to launch a compliance drive immediately following the amnesty. Announcement of such a compliance drive with details of the penalties and timeline, widely publicized in the print and electronic media as well as on social media and along-with the curbing of the uncertainty can and will lead to the success of this scheme.

 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

Behind the Scenes in a TV Program on Finance, Taxation & Economy

Dear Readers,

Peace be on you all. I hope the post holiday energy is keeping you going at full speed. Below are some behind the scenes pictures from the above titled program where I was honored to be invited as an expert on the subject.

The program will be shared on this blog too and you’ll be amazed by the technology converting the set into a totally different setting, something very common used in Hollywood.

This also shows how technology keeps on facilitating and evolving our lives for better, when put to productive use. Enjoy the pictures and let us know your feedback.

The Mother

Salam (peace be on you) dear readers,

My today’s post is very different from the professional and topical ones you’ll be used to reading in this blog. It probably won’t be as coherent but will be from heart. It’s actually quite late so I’ll try to keep it brief.

Today, let us take a moment and think about mothers. Yes, let us think about them in our busy lives even when it’s not a mothers’ day to celebrate, even when we don’t need them to do something for us, even when we don’t want them for comforting us, even when we don’t need their favors, just think about them without any need and reason other than that they’re our mothers. And that should be sufficient.

Mother …………… Who’s a mother? A girl or a woman who has her own life and dreams and many a times see them killed or snatched away or even herself choose to sacrifice them, to bring lives in this world. Lives which are us all. Her kids. Kids who become her life, her happiness, her entire universe and what not!

She forgets herself, the world and everything else becomes secondary to her kids and even if it still exists for her it’s only for her children, She goes through everything to bring a smile on her kids’ faces, on our faces. To make us happy becomes her biggest pleasure. To see us successful becomes her epitome of success. Our pain becomes unbearable for her. Our tears shatters her world. She’s always praying for us. She’s always looking out for us.  Somehow she’s always there for us.

She forgets herself for she sees herself in us. She happily bears all the pains to ensure that we’re happy. She willingly makes all the sacrifices to keep us safe and make us successful.  Then one day, she goes away silently and the world is not the same anymore.

Yes, the life goes on but does it really? Then again, she’s there somewhere looking upon us longing for our smiles ………. her dreams are what keeps us going. Yes, it will never be the same again for there is no replacement of parents and particularly a mother. So love your mothers, respect them and obey them. Honour them and value them for you don’t know their true value until they’re gone and then you just can’t bring them back.

May Allah Almighty bless all our mothers and grant heaven to all those that passed away. Aameen

Tax Amnesty in Pakistan

Tax Tip of the Day: 

At MLCC, our considered professional opinion is that, if you fall within the ambit of the Tax Amnesty offered in Pakistan then it is a golden opportunity for you. 

Such an opportunity may not come again soon specially with the effective go-ahead from the SCP and owning up by FBR.  With OECD convention’s data sharing coming into the picture later this year, it maybe your last window of opportunity to legally comply and whiten the undeclared income and assets.

For more information, feel free to contact: https://lnkd.in/fMHw_7M

There’s a separate link on the Amnesty there too.

All the best!

Patience

“Patience doesn’t mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process.

What does patience mean?

It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn.

Impatience means to be so shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome.”

 

Those with faith and love of God NEVER run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.