LAHORE: The Excise and Taxation Department (E&T ) on Tuesday sealed Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s office on Jail Road for non-payment of property tax but it was opened shortly after, when the chief minister told the department to de-seal it.
An official of the department said that the party owed Rs350,128 in property tax. The PTI paid the outstanding amount on Tuesday and showed it to the members of the press later in the afternoon.
PTI’s Lahore region president, Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed called the move a “cheap tactic” that the Punjab government had resorted to after the party’s successful October 30 public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan. He said that the office had been sealed with Shahbaz Sharif’s approval otherwise “the E&T Department would not have dared seal the building”.
Rasheed told reporters that the office had been sealed a day before the deadline set by the department to deposit the tax. “The last date was November 23 [today]. The E&T Department sealed our office a day before, which is clear injustice,” he said.
The party’s Lahore region president also objected to being issued a tax bill of Rs350,128. “Last year we paid Rs25,000 as tax. This year the government sent us a bill that is more than ten times what we paid last year,” he said. Rasheed said that the building from which PTI was operating had not been rented.
According to him, the building was owned by his cousin Mian Hameed, which he had ‘donated’ to the party. Hameed does not charge any rent for the building, he said, adding that the tax invoice made no sense.
When asked if the PTI planned on challenging the tax charged in court, he ruled out the possibility, saying that the party would highlight the issue in the media.
He asked that the Sharifs show receipts of the tax they paid for their offices in Model Town. Rasheed also demanded that the Punjab government suspend from service the official who had sealed their office. Otherwise, he said, the PTI will take out a rally protesting against the Punjab government on Friday.
E&T Inspector Muhammad Arif, who sealed the building, denied all of Rasheed’s allegations.
“He is trying to mislead the people. We sealed the office as part of our campaign against tax defaulters,” he said, adding that the department had also sealed other offices in Gulberg as part of the same drive.
Arif said that according to The Urban Immovable Property Tax Act, 1958 the annual tax came to around Rs119,000. “For the last three years, the owners have only being paying a fraction of what they actually owe,” the department official said. The owners paid Rs25,000 in 2008-09 and Rs50,000 in 2010-11, he said, adding that the invoice for more than Rs350,000 was issued after calculating what the owners owed for years past.
To Rasheed’s statement that the building had been donated, he said that if anyone other than the owner used the building, they automatically fall within the definition of a tenant, meaning that the tax rate would be higher.
“If a party is using the building instead of an individual, then it is the defaulter,” he said.
When asked whether the department had sealed the party office a day before the deadline for payment of the tax, Arif said that the deadline was November 22. The inspector said that it was not until after the department had sealed the building that PTI office bearers had asked that they be given until November 23 to deposit the tax.
He said that whoever had doubts could see the date and time stamp on the voucher that he had issued to the party, extending the deadline. “It was issued after the building was sealed,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2011.