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ISLAMABAD: The government’s commitment with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to register 0.3 million more taxpayers with the help of physical surveys and withholding tax/ third-party data seems to be unrealistic.

Responding to a query, Former Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Revenue Haroon Akhtar told Business Recorder that the “target to register another 300,000 taxpayers is unrealistic and over-ambitious”.

He said the delay in the implementation of the National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA) project to use actionable data for the registration of new taxpayers would hamper FBR’s drive of documentation. Secondly, the trader’s community has also rejected the restoration of the old tax scheme under the Tax Laws (Second) Amendment Ordinance 2022. The turnover of the traders should be the benchmark for their registration and tax payment.

Moreover, the withholding tax data was also not workable in the past for the purpose of broadening the tax base.

The question arises that how the tax machinery would be able to register another 300,000 new taxpayers in the absence of NADRA’s actionable data and traders/ retailers’ refusal to come into the tax net, he said.

The FBR’s Web Portal for the non-filers of the income tax returns is still not operational.

He stated that the NADRA’s data should be actionable which should be sustainable in the court of law. The cases framed on the basis of NADRA’s tax profiles should not be challenged in the court. Reportedly, the FBR had shared the list of 3,500 big profiles of non-filers, prepared by the NADRA, with the FBR Operations Wing for on-ground verification of data. The authority has been trying for the last many years to finalize tax profiles for using the actionable data against non-filers. Therefore, the said project is still in the test phase.

To a query, Former chairman FBR Shabbar Zaidi responded that strict enforcement is needed to register the entire supply chain of traders, retailers, wholesalers and dealers. Out of 2 million to 2.5 million, the registration of 0.3 million retailers is not an impossible task provided the government is fully committed to document the retail sector.

However, tax expert Dr Ikramul Haq told this scribe that the repeated amnesty schemes in the past have made it impossible for the FBR to take action against high-net-worth individuals. They have already whitened their movable/ immovable domestic/ foreign assets. Even ex-NADRA Chairman Ali Arshad Hakim, who was made FBR Chairman in 2012, was unable to register ‘super rich’ 200,000 individuals at that time.

The present government is not in a position to force wholesalers and retailers, as traders are their major vote bank. The FBR will use the old technique of registering salaried individuals in small and medium size businesses to show the number of 0.3 million new taxpayers. The tax paid by the salaried class is much higher as compared to the retail sector, Dr Ikramul Haq added.

Tax lawyer Waheed Shahzad Butt informed that the tax authorities also seek to bring the service sector, notably retailers, into the tax net by making better use of data from tax collected through electricity bills on commercial connections.

Under the Tax Laws (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, the Fixed Tax Scheme introduced for retailers (other than tier-I retailers) on commercial electricity connection has been withdrawn with effect from July 1, 2022 and the previous regime (prevailing prior to Finance Act 2022) has been restored. But the restored scheme has also been rejected by the traders. All kinds of amnesty schemes and concessions and relaxations to the trader’s community have also failed to bring them into the tax net. There is a need to document these potential taxpayers without any political interference within the tax machinery, Waheed Shahzad Butt added.

According to the FBR, Income Tax Returns for Tax Year-2021 have reached 3.4 million compared to 3.0 million in Tax Year-2020, showing an increase of 13%.Furthermore, around 23,265 point of sale terminals has been integrated with real-time point of sales (POS) reporting system of FBR.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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