ISLAMABAD: The government has dropped a broad hint that it is contemplating a tax amnesty scheme for “those who wanted to come into the tax net”, as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar put it on Thursday.
“Some way out can be provided to those who want to come into the tax net,” Dar said in a veiled reference to a general tax amnesty scheme while speaking at a ceremony held in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) headquarters to select cases for tax audit for the year 2015 through parametric selection.
As many as 93,277 cases were picked for audit and an overwhelming majority of those were in the category of non-corporate income taxpayers.
This is the first time that a senior government functionary has dropped a hint for a tax amnesty scheme, which will be the fourth by the present political dispensation.
According to a report, the government is working on a general tax amnesty scheme to attract money stashed in Pakistan and abroad by its citizens after increasing requirements of disclosures in offshore havens have made it difficult to retain untaxed and hidden assets abroad.
Many countries, including most tax havens, have started adopting principles of transparency and will soon start sharing information under various conventions of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This will increasingly make it difficult to hide untaxed assets abroad.
If the government approves the scheme, the people whose names have appeared in the Panama and Bahamas leaks will be the main beneficiaries — in addition to those who will be affected by the UAE’s decision to adopt global transparency standards.
Dar said the present government has tried to strengthen the laws to discourage tax evasion. He said the government had proposed to setup a Global Registry of the companies having offshore assets through Companies Ordinance, which the Senate has already repealed.
“The SECP [Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan] issued notices to 42,000 companies related to global asset registry after promulgation of Companies’ Ordinance,” Dar said, adding that Pakistan’s OECD membership would strengthen anti tax evasion efforts.
The FBR selected 7.5% cases for holding audit out of total received returns under Universal Self Assessment Scheme (USAS) for the tax year 2015.
Out of total 93,277 cases, the FBR selected 2,173 corporate income tax cases, 82,090 cases of non-corporate sector of income tax, 987 cases from Sales Tax (corporate), 7,976 from Sales Tax (non-corporate), 30 cases from Federal Excise Duty (corporate) and 21 cases from FED (non corporate).
Dar said all those who are honest should not worry about the audit, if their names are included in the list of selected audit cases. He said he had faced such things in life but came out with clean hands.
The minister said there was a need to set examples for promoting tax compliance in the country.
“I was the one who presented summaries before the cabinet for signing OECD’s agreement on anti tax evasion for exchange of information and for initiating agreement with Swiss authorities on bilateral level,” he said.
He said the PML-N government refused to grant extra ordinary concessions to Swiss authorities during negotiations. “The Swiss authorities had demanded reduction in taxes and MFN [Most Favoured Nation] status in their favour but the government did not compromise,” he added.
Special Assistant to PM on Revenues Haroon Akhtar Khan said in past the audit processes were challenged in the courts and after that they decided to hold parameters and risk based audit after getting guidelines from the judiciary.
“We have excluded 65% returns from the audit as only those sectors were included which possessed high risks,” Khan added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2017.