GSMA raises concerns over SIM blocking policy

International telecom body urges balanced approach for tax compliance

Our Correspondent May 10, 2024


The international body representing telecom operators has expressed concerns over the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) decision to block mobile SIMs of individuals not appearing on the active taxpayer list for Tax Year 2023.

GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association), Head of Asia Pacific, Julian Gorman has written to Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication, Shaza Fatima Khawaja, expressing concerns over the Income Tax General Order (ITGO) issued by FBR on April 30, 2024, regarding the blocking of over 500,000 SIMs.

The GSMA highlighted that the ITGO will not only affect citizens and businesses but also the vision of Digital Pakistan and especially the digitisation of FBR.

“Measures like this ITGO, may have unintended consequences, particularly for vulnerable segments,” it said.

The Association acknowledged Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) response, emphasising the potential negative consequences of implementing this ITGO.

Key concerns include its impact on citizen rights, livelihoods, access to essential services, and information, as well as gender bias in SIM card registration – as only 27% of SIMs are registered against female Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs).

The execution of the ITGO may also restrict connectivity for potential subscribers and users, affecting individual development and wellbeing.

The GSMA also stated that such a move would have a wide-ranging impact on society, including gender disparities in SIM registration, impact on educational activities, confidence in foreign investment, and challenges to financial transactions and e-commerce.

Instead of punitive measures, the GSMA urged FBR to explore alternative strategies for tax collection while ensuring uninterrupted access to mobile services for all citizens.

The GSMA believes that adopting a balanced approach to tax compliance, promoting voluntary participation, and fostering economic inclusivity will yield better outcomes for both the government and citizens.

The letter also referred to the ‘GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report and Children and Mobile Technology resources,’ providing recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders on addressing challenges while promoting inclusivity and safeguarding individuals’ rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2024.

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