EDITORIAL: Bureaucratic inefficiency has clearly been at its typical best in Islamabad in the matter of investigating and putting an end to benami transactions. A news report in this paper has brought to light that suspected benami properties in the federal capital cannot be investigated because the concerned revenue/development authority never bothered to provide any information to Benami authorities including Benami Zone of Islamabad.
The anti-benami drive began in 2019, mainly to meet FATF (Financial Action Task Force) conditions, and the prime minister’s office wrote to revenue authorities of all provinces to report suspicious transactions within one month. A copy was also sent to chief commissioner ICT and chairman CDA, Islamabad. And while provinces did indeed forward some information, which led to a number of cases as well, nothing has come so far from CDA Islamabad, despite several reminders, even though more than 30 months have passed since the one-month deadline.
Benami transactions identified by the zones that did comply with the PM’s directive revealed a wealth of information about suspect dealings in agriculture land, residential plots and houses, bank accounts, luxury vehicles, stocks, etc. And enforcement of this law will not only finally help get a clean chit from FATF, it will also net tax evaders, resolve inheritance issues, reduce litigation and, above all, discourage financial crime.
Everybody knows that Islamabad’s prime real estate fetches top dollar, and a lot of those rich enough to afford flipping files and driving up real estate prices then spend their killing on all sorts of luxuries that escape the taxman. Yet the system tasked with hunting down and uprooting the main driving force of the capital’s black economy is either too incapable, or too uninterested, to even get the ball rolling.
It’s astonishing that nobody in the halls of power in Islamabad took any notice of this matter, despite disappointment upon disappointment from FATF, not to mention all the headaches from leakages that benami transactions cause in the economy.
And considering the game of musical chairs that is going on in parliament right now, and the toxicity and confrontation it has brought to mainstream politics, it’s unlikely that CDA Islamabad would feel compelled to pull his socks up anytime soon. And so another opportunity to do a critical clean up job on the economy has gone begging because of the paralysis that defines the bureaucracy’s work ethic. Now, as this information becomes public, questions will naturally arise about the reasons for the non-compliance. Was it to protect certain interest groups, for example?
The days when the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) vowed to reform the civil service came and went without any change. Years ago, President Musharraf also embarked on a spirited drive to shape up the government machinery; and that drive also ended in sorrow. It seems that any effort to breathe some life into the bureaucracy, however sincere, ends up as dead as the service’s sense of efficiency itself. Yet keeping your head buried in the sand never makes the problem go away. The service ought to realise that it has kicked the can of change all the way down to the road’s end, and it must turn itself around now.
Pakistan is in an unusually precarious situation at this moment. Some of its indicators have already begun raising default-level red flags in financial markets. The politics has become so poisoned that we were just left without a functioning government for almost a week. At such times, the bureaucracy needs to be at the top of its game. However, the way it’s bent upon committing needless blunders, like choosing not to respond to the PM’s orders about benami transactions, it does not inspire any confidence at all.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022