Amnesty scheme is no NRO, says FBR

Board submits written response on petition challenging ordinance

Irshad Ansari June 24, 2019
Board submits written response on petition challenging ordinance. ILLUSTRATION: EXPRESS TRIBUNE

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has said that the prerogative for approval, rejection, and amendment in the Asset Declaration Ordinance, 2019 rests with parliament. However, the current government’s scheme for declaration of benami assets and wealth should not be taken as a ‘financial NRO’, the FBR said in a response to a petition against the scheme which was filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC). The petitioner claims that the ordinance is akin to a ‘financial NRO’.

The board added that initiatives like the asset declaration scheme are legal under the Constitution of Pakistan under compelling circumstances. Interpreting, promulgating, amending or cancelling the legal status of the scheme is the domain of parliament, the FBR said in response to the petition.

Petitioner Waheed Shahzad Butt had argued that the asset declaration ordinance violated Article 25 of the Constitution. According to Waheed Shahzad Butt, who filed the writ against the amnesty scheme, the FBR in its written response to the Lahore High Court has admitted that the matter has gone beyond the scope of the board and the president, which means parliament would have to decide the fate of the scheme. If parliament does not give its approval, all those benefitting from the scheme will have to face regular tax laws, under which they would be required to pay taxes at rates of up to 35 per cent with penalties of 35 per cent fine on their declared benami assets.

Keeping pace : Assisting average citizens with amnesty

FBR’s spokesperson Hamid Ateeq Sarwar was not available for comment.

The FBR’s response maintained that the scheme introduced by the government has the same legal basis as past amnesty schemes and its primary goal remains to encourage people to document undeclared businesses and sectors with the aim of transforming it into a more formal and documented economy. The board claims that the petitioner’s labelling of the asset declaration scheme as an NRO is an attempt to make it a controversial matter and could not be defended.

The court had also issued notices to the federal government, finance ministry, ministry of law and justice, the national assembly speaker, and FBR chairman demanding their responses.

However, only the FBR has submitted its written reply so far.

While challenging the scheme, the petitioner maintained that the Asset Declaration Ordinance 2019 was introduced under Article 89 of the constitution through a presidential ordinance.

“However, the amnesty scheme introduced by the government is nothing but a step forward and two steps backwards,” the petitioner maintained, adding that he was a taxpaying citizen of the country and the scheme will provide a clean chit to tax evaders in gross violation of the Constitution of Pakistan, as well as fundamental rights.

This scheme is also unjust for taxpayers who pay their dues with full integrity and honesty.

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