As the government struggles to meet its tax collection targets, the World Bank and the United States have suggested a different approach: instead of harassing taxpayers, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has been advised to minimise interaction with them and base tax demands on actual evidence, rather than collection targets.
Against the backdrop of rising complaints about harassment by tax officials, the FBR held a meeting on Monday to decide between two approaches – the first that would continue the current model which ends up making tax payments a pain for the average citizen but suits the civil service’s bureaucratic style, or a different model that may rely on less interaction but, experts say, produces better results.
FBR officials currently send tax notices to companies and individuals based on its own internal parameters without properly going over the records of the taxpayer, said sources. Tax officials then send an audit notice or a tax demand, which creates panic amongst the taxpayers who receive them.
Having those tax demands adjusted to reflect real income as opposed to FBR estimates can be quite a chore, which in turn frustrates and angers the less than 2 per cent of Pakistanis who are registered as active taxpayers.
According to the plan being proposed, the FBR would first analyse all available data, match it with third party records, and find substantive evidence of any potential problems before sending an audit notice. A provisional tax demand, according to the proposal, would also be raised only based on a similar evidence-based procedure.
“There has to be paradigm shift in audit policy. There is no room for harassment of taxpayers due to increasing scrutiny,” said an official of the FBR audit department. He said that provisional tax demands are often raised based on the FBR’s own collection targets rather than any indication of wrongdoing on the part of the taxpayer.
The plan is being pushed by the Competitive Support Fund, a joint venture between the finance ministry and the United States Agency for International Development to help Pakistan’s economy become more competitive.
In terms of ease of paying taxes, Pakistan currently ranks 145th out of a total of 183 countries according to the World Bank’s 2011 Doing Business report.
Many experts see a direct correlation between Pakistan’s high tax evasion rates (the government estimates around 44 per cent of all taxes owed are never paid) and the difficulty in paying taxes.
The World Bank has proposed that the government establish a Central Audit Taskforce to introduce an element of accountability for the field officers who send audit notices to taxpayers. The Inland Revenue Service has backed the proposal.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.
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@TightDhoti: They did not come back from the Gulag. It will serve the Pakistani tax dodgers equally well. To start with Zardari, Sharif Brothers, all the MNA's, MPAs and Nazims, then Bureaucratic families. Did you know that when Salman Farooqi was arrested in the 1990s the police found Rs 14 crores in cash in his home. Then in lockers they found millions in foreign currency and jewelry. And now he is given the Nations Award. They are all traitors and deserve worse but the Gulag would be like a holiday.
The author makes some good points. The fact that we are ranked 145th says it all.
A central audit task-force will comprise the same crooks as they are over-seeing.
The whole approach needs to be re-worked. In the advanced economies, you file your returns. That is considered full and final settlement. You can file on-line as well. No one bothers you.
If you go through a tax preparing firm, so much the better. They, not you, are responsbile for any errors.
However, there is an audit system. You MAY be audited. So you are required by law (in the US for example) to keep all your documents for SEVEN years in case your name comes up in the random audit. Even if you are audited, you are allowed an error/misdecleration of upto 15% and not pay any penalty.
All said and done, this tinkering with the edges will not do. We need a wholsale and drastic re-working of the tax regime. We don't need to re-invent the wheel. There are successful tax collection models in other developing countries. Study them and choose "best-practice".
@Billoo Bhaya: they werent reformed they were dead! Just to be clear you want none tax payers to be arrested by the state, and then put in jails on the taxpayers expense?
On the ground Pakistan is an income tax free state because no one pays taxes. The govt. of Pakistan should officially declare it as an income tax free country. Doing so will herald a new wave of prosperity for this country.
IRS of U.S. is the biggest harasser of the world, and U.S. wants Pakistan's FBR to be polite. FBR rightly harasses, nobody in Pakistan wants to pay up their dues.
Yea we should all pay our taxes.. Our leaders have a whole list of things they they need to get before the next elections comes round..
FBR has become dysfunctional.
Look at their true performance, they have done nothing significant to improve tax to GDP ratio. They cannot even report correct tax figures.
Income Tax Retrun forms are in English and 8-10 page long and complex.
FBR should make simple 1-2 page tax return in english and urdu
Send the tax collectors in with machine guns.
"You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar".This is an old saying but may not be valid for Pakistan tax culture
The basic problem is that the government and FBR is trying to extract more and more tax from the same tax base--which is quite narrow. Admittedly there is massive corruption in FBR as per press reports . Ex-Finance Minister had quantified it at Rs 500 billion as per Tribune news item of 21 Nov 2010. Why do officers as to be posted in certain circles?. And why do the FBR bosses allow this. All one has been hearing about FBR in last few weeks is a power struggle over who has authority to post and transfer officers.
FBR does not have a tax profile ,tax distribution amongst various categories of existing tax payers which shows who is paying what tax. There is no strategy,no vision.
Why is Income Tax Ordinance 2001 and Sales Tax Act 1990 not in URDU language?. Why our Income Tax Sales tax Returns not in Urdu?. Let the officers who sit in Board in Council of FBR fill out one Income Tax Return form of a public company and they will easily know why there is such low compliance. Why not make a simple ONE page form of return for small business in English and Urdu.
Let FBR honestly analyse the data of taxes:
Remove the Tax paid by 100 largest cooperation and taxes paid voluntarily through tax deductions at source; I can bet the balance taxes would not be more than 20% of total taxes and may be this balance tax will be less than total administration cost and salaries of FBR.
Trust people to pay proper taxes: see the increase in taxes paid from 2003 to 2006.
The solution lies in improving the systems, less taxpayer and tax official interface. Solution lies in less tax litigation. Solution lies in simplifying tax laws. Solution lies in aggressive collation of third party information an d using it for proper compliance.
Its ain't going to make no difference. Until tax evaders are not sent to "Debters Prison" the looter is not going to change his character and lifestyle. We need to build special purpose prisons to reflect the ones in Soviet Russia where Stalin sent people to be reformed. And reformed they were.