Iqbal the Economist & his solutions for Pakistan– Part I

Links of Published Versions of Article:

By:

Omer Zaheer Meer,

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

Allama Muhammad Iqbal is known to us as a marvel of excellence in all the fields he worked in. He is the visionary who dreamed of Pakistan, the famous Poet of the East, a top philosopher, a revered scholar, a politician, a parliamentarian par excellence and even a spiritual guide for many. Thanks to the recent pioneering work published in the book of my honorable father Mr. Zaheer Ahmad Meer Advocate, titled “The Great Lawyer – 106 Reported Cases of Allama Muhammad Iqbal”, we’re now aware that he was a Great Lawyer too. 

However, what most of us may be unaware of, is the fact that he was also a fine proponent of economics. He wrote his first book on Economics titled “Ilm ul Iqtisadiyat” or “Science of the Economics” in 1903 in Urdu, at the age of just about 26 years old, when no one was doing such work even in English in the sub-continent.

Unfortunately, this first ever book on economics in Urdu language, largely remained unnoticed, not to be realized, never to be properly acknowledged.

Let us remember that during Iqbal’s era, the classics of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ricardo and Alfred Marshall were taught all over Europe. But in the Indo-Pak subcontinent even teachers and scholars had only a hazy idea of this subject. Actually, it was not even introduced at the University level anywhere in the Indo-Pak subcontinent baring three universities. 

Unfortunately, this first ever book on economics in Urdu language, largely remained unnoticed, not to be realised, never to be properly acknowledged

It is therefore spellbinding that Iqbal had such deep insights into the subject of economics and the economic plight of the Muslims of the sub-continent. He was deeply concerned with the unequal income distribution that turned the rich richer and the poor poorer, a challenge we still face across the globe and in our homeland, Pakistan. The mere writing of ‘Ilm ul Iqtisadiyat’ renders him economist in the same-way as the Wealth of Nations (1776) made Adam Smith an economist, or the Das Captia portrayed Karl Marx as one; albeit the context eventually differed.

Iqbal also pointed out on 28 May I937 that: “The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute. The Indian (Muslim) has begun to feel that he has been going down and down during the last 200 years. Ordinarily he believes that his poverty is due to (Hindu) money-lending or capitalism. The perception that it is equally due to foreign rule has not yet fully come to him. But it is bound to come.”

Allama Iqbal, the learned enigma and a great thinker of Islam, was actually the first economist of the Indo-Pak subcontinent to raise his voice against the exploitation of Muslims by domestic and foreign classes controlling the means of production.

While, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal was anti-Imperialism in his thought process, yet he was able to point out the key problems as well as draw up workable solutions to address them.

1. Welfare based wealth

Iqbal presented the concept of welfare based wealth, distinguishing it from the traditional wealth.  An example to elaborate the concept would be that if skilled labor were enslaved for forced labor, it’ll increase the national wealth but will be detrimental to the welfare based wealth of the citizens and wider humanity. Similarly a pledged property may be accounted for as the wealth of the creditor in the event of a default but won’t meaningfully impact the overall wealth of the state.

2. Population Control

Surprisingly, Allama Iqbal also pointed out the excessive increase in population as a core issue at times of saturating economic resources, in an era when no one in the Islamic world did that. He very logically explained that while increase in population can be productive in a scenario of untapped or plentiful economic resources, it becomes counter-productive economically when the situation reverses, unless, other economic avenues can be explored to further create economic opportunities for growing population.

We can all appreciate, how this issue identified in 1903, has become a core economic concern for us in 2019, albeit 116 years later. I ask you all, what else do you call vision & foresight, if not this?

3. Economic Equilibrium in local context

Iqbal also advocated that a research-based analysis can determine the equilibrium in various sectors of the economy and modes of factor pricing as per the local context. Yet, at the same time he also urges to focus upon human development through exploration and preservation of natural resources and improving human and societal relations. By doing so, Iqbal practically envisioned today’s HDI (human development index).

4. Specialized Production/Services

Iqbal has also put forth various strategies used by recent economic success stories. For example, he discussed regional specialization in producing goods and services and brought in the notion of comparative cost, concepts that China practiced in its economic resurgence. This basically advocates for a country or its federating units, e.t.c. to focus its expertise in their specialzied area of production/services while accounting for the opportunity cost of producing that good or service in order to achieve economic optimization.

The writer is a leading economist and experienced 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 international exposure 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

Tax Amnesty: Results, Challenges faced & Follow-up required

Links of Published Versions of Article:

By:

Omer Zaheer Meer,

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

With the deadline for declaring undisclosed assets, sales and expenditures under the Asset Declaration Ordinance, 2019 (commonly referred to as Tax Amnesty scheme) being over, it’s time to analyze the results, experiences during the process and the follow-up required.

Asset Declaration Ordinance, 2019 was promulgated on 14th May 2019. The stated aim of the initiative was to bring new people, previously unregistered, within the tax-net voluntarily. The initial response just like the 2018 Tax Amnesty scheme was lukewarm, perhaps owing to both the lack of clarity and the Ramadan and Eid festivities.

Initiatives that showed intent

Thankfully, following our advice, the concerned quarters ran public information campaigns and announced that they had successfully integrated databases of various authorities in the country and now also possessed 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. An adjudication authority for enforcement of The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 2017. This, after a lapse of almost two years since the law came into being, signaled the seriousness of the government for enforcement action.

The scheme, however, really took off in the last ten days of June 2019 with the seriousness of the Government in enforcement becoming even more clearer and the arrests of top political figures by NAB and stringent sentence in corruption case of ex bureaucrat by the Supreme Court of Pakistan sending strong messages.

The promised enforcement action coupled with structural reforms to eliminate taxpayers’ harassment and to rationalize the tax system should be undertaken. Without these measures, this scheme would be remembered as just another one in the history of the amnesties launched in Pakistan. However, with the right approach and actions this can become the turning point for the taxation compliance culture in Pakistan”

Moves that backfired

NADRA and FBR then tried to further shore up these efforts by launching their databases. NADRA launched its database first with initially a fee of Rs. 500 to access the records of a person held by NADRA. Unfortunately, it was a disaster due to the lack of data and the people were taken aback that if this was the data held by the authorities then nothing much has changed. The move backfired big time. Many people started talking of taking a “risk” believing that the claims are a façade.

Next came the FBR database, free to access. The quality of data was better than NADRA’s database but was still very weak. However, FBR atleast did the sensible thing of posting a message that it was not a complete profile and that the details were still being populated from the database. A rumor was also spread claiming that whoever logged in to the databases would be recorded and followed up by the FBR. This negativity infact saved the day with people starting to avoid checking their profiles and simply preferring to avail the scheme to streamline their affairs.

Experiences and Challenges

Despite these setbacks, most of the people, including those belonging to the powerful segments as retired military officials, bureaucrats, judges, journalists, e.t.c. were flocking to avail the scheme. Just a clarification that the bar on Government employees’ being excluded from the scheme was for those currently serving or retired within the last 10 years.

With the results showing healthy signs and uniform demands of an extension from all professionals, tax practitioners, legal fraternity, chartered and chartered certified accountants, businessmen, e.t.c., the Government did the best it could in the face of the IMF pre-conditionality of no Amnesty scheme during their program, which was an extension of 3 days, till 3rd July 2019. The response erupted!

People were literally running from pillar to post to avail the scheme in the last few days which led to regular breakdown of the online system of FBR (IRIS). With extreme load on the last day, the system constantly got choked. Furthermore, a confusion led to the rumors of the systems being partially shutdown at 5 PM on 3rd July 2019 instead of the usual tacit understanding of the English calendar’s end of day at 11:59 PM, in line with the past practices of the FBR. This led to atleast 6,000 applications of the already paid tax being stuck in the system with tens of thousands not being able to submit. Mr. Shabbar Zaidi, the FBR Chairman, allowed the processing of the former while the fate of the latter remained unclear to this moment.

 The Results

Despite all the challenges, the scheme became the most successful in terms of the numbers availing the scheme and the new tax registrations being issues. At the time of publication, 137,000 people had availed the scheme compared to 84,000 over a much larger duration in the 2018 amnesty scheme. Out of the 137,000, almost 100,000 were new tax registrations. With the stuck cases being cleared, the number is expected to grow from 137,000 to closer to 150,000. Almost $ 20 billion worth of previously undisclosed assets were declared. However, the tax collection was less compared to the 2018 scheme owing to the low rates of this scheme (1.5% – 4% for most asset classes) compared to the last one’s 5%.

Way Forward

The challenges faced during this scheme should be studied, and lessons learned for the future particularly about the capacity building of the state institutions both in terms of the human resource and the technology. The promised enforcement action coupled with structural reforms to eliminate taxpayers’ harassment and rationalize the tax system should be undertaken. Without these measures, this scheme would be remembered as just another one in the history of the amnesties launched in Pakistan. However, with the right approach and actions this can become the turning point for the taxation compliance culture in Pakistan.

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

ACCA MNP Meeting

Dear Readers,

This is to share with you that I chairmed a very positive and productive meeting of the ACCA MNP.

Below is a summary of the non-confidential proceedings:

Major challenges, opportunities, strengths and improvements were discussed for betterment of the profession and wider society with a positive impact for our beloved Pakistan while also creating positive global impact.

Major breakthroughs, initiatives and proposals put forward at the IA2018 were shared with MNP members.

Relevant committees and societies’ tasks and targets were also finalized along with some other initiatives being put in motion.

Taxation Committee’s works were shared, being already in motion.

Key initiatives including, Thursday Huddles, Employer Engagements, Regulator Engagements, e.t.c. were also recommended to be given increased impetus.

Feel free to share your suggestions.

Sincerely,

Omer Zaheer Meer

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.

 

ACCA publishes detailed report on MLCC

Dear Readers,

Peace be on you,

It is with pleasure that we share that ACCA, the largest accountancy body in the world recently published a detailed report on our firm Millennium Law & Corporate Company (MLCC) and recognized it as the pioneer ACCA practicing firm in Pak. You can directly access it at: ACCA’s published profile of MLCC

or continue to read below and let us know your valuable views.

Millennium Law and Corporate Company (MLCC) becomes the Pioneer ACCA practicing firm in Pakistan

2ecb140b-470d-4d48-b515-9f5fce7561ab.jpg

Profile of Millennium Law & Corporate Company

  • 30 + Years’ “Young”

Millennium Law & Corporate Company (MLCC) has a background of thirty (30) years plus history of professional excellence stemming from its parent practice. It used to be focused solely on legal practice including corporate matters.

  • Way Forward – One stop solution

MLCC was expanded to include a new division for providing ACCA centered services. This led to the inclusion of the areas of taxation, corporate services, internal audit, advisory, risk management and trainings in addition to the other legal matters within the services offered by MLCC.

  • Partners

The firm is setup with specialized teams dealing with relevant areas under four (4) partners, two of whom are ACCA members while one is an ex legal advisor Federal Land Commission (Government of Pakistan) and another is an ex deputy Attorney General of Pakistan.

  • Pioneer ACCA Practising Firm in Pakistan

In 2015, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) took a giant leap in Pakistan and initiated practising license program for the country.

  • MLCC became the pioneer practising firm in Pakistan with
  • Omer Zaheer Meer FCCA (the managing partner of MLCC) being awarded the first ever ACCA practising license in Pakistan.

Before that history was made when:

  • Omer Zaheer Meer FCCA became the first ever ACCA member to get admitted to the prestigious Lahore Tax Bar Association (LTBA) during 2009/10.
  • He was later joined by his brother Mr. Ali Zaheer Meer ACCA who is now a partner at MLCC and another ACCA member at LTBA.

Millennium Law & Corporate Company has built a reputation for quality services based on value creation and issue resolutions with time-specified deliverables. It is now the premier ACCA practising firm in the country and one of the leaders in the taxation, advisory and corporate services sectors.

  • Distinguished Collaborations

MLCC through its partners is currently represented at the Taxation Committee of Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chairing the Liaison and sitting on the publication committees of LTBA, Chairing the Taxation Committee of ACCA, Global Tax Forum of ACCA and several think-tanks including Hamdard Thinkers’ Forum and Millat Thinkers’ Forum. MLCC’s clientele also includes some of the most distinguished names. Out key clients and/or associations are as below:

Read the rest of this section directly at:  ACCA’s published profile of MLCC

 

Why was MLCC started?

Managing Partner’s Views:

It is my strong and educated belief that the ACCA qualification and a proper training program equips one with the relevant skills, education and expertise to be the best not just technically but on the value addition side of being an entrepreneur.

With an early start to my career resulting is sufficient experience, I felt it was the right time to launch an ACCA practising firm on my return from UK to Pakistan. Also it was an opportunity to contribute back to the profession and ACCA fraternity in several ways.

However ACCA did not have a local practising license back then. Nevertheless we upheld the brand ACCA and pioneered in an area deemed alien for ACCA members at the time, i.e. local taxation. Within a short span of time we stood out of the crowd delivering excellence and quality beyond norms of the market. We then started expanding into other areas such as corporate services, advisory, risk management, e.t.c. with equally good results.

The milestones so far

Since becoming the pioneer ACCA practising firm in Pakistan some of the major milestones achieved by MLCC are outlined below:

  • Establishment of our non-legal services headquarter at the prime location of Bashir Mansion, 2 Turner Road, Lahore which is opposite FBR, close to Appellate Tribunal, behind Lahore High Court, adjacent AG Office and practically in the hub of all the action.
  • Establishment of a branch office in DHA, Lahore for facilitation of our clientele from the posh areas.
  • Award of the practising license and hence becoming the pioneer ACCA practising firm in Pakistan
  • Joining of Mr. Ali Zaheer Meer as the second ACCA partner of the Firm
  • Expansion intro value addition areas beyond taxation including internal audit, advisory, risk management, corporate services, e.t.c.
  • Start of our training division
  • Partnership with ACCA Pakistan for the CPD trainings of ACCA fraternity and beyond
  • Attendance of our CPD programs and training events by high-profile professionals including owners, directors and even non-ACCA partners of other renowned firms
  • Publication and launch of a research study on indirect taxation across the MESA (Middle-East and South-Asia region) in collaboration with ACCA and EY
  • Working with top names in various sectors including the likes of National Bank of Pakistan, Habib Bank Limited, MPDD, ACCA, LCCI, KCCI, LTBA, e.t.c.
  • Pre-launch of our ACCA trainees induction program

Advantages and benefits of ACCA firms

ACCA firms offer several benefits for the ACCA fraternity, the business community and the society at large. Some of the major ones include:

  • Opening up of new horizons and opportunities
  • Jobs creation
  • Quality services
  • Greater acceptance of ACCA locally
  • Entrepreneurial rewards
  • Increased collaborations with worthy partners
  • Greater exposure

With the advent of CPEC and the corresponding developments, there is a lot of potential for quality accountants and firms offering the right services. Yes it will be challenging but the rewards are more than commensurate. So have a dream and turn it into a reality.