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Automaton of the government processes and systems related to revenue collection, approvals, permits, NOCs and similar has multiple advantages, which include:
1) Limited direct contact between the government functionaries and public;
2) Transparent and even-handed application of tariffs, rules and regulations for all, thereby limiting the discretionary powers of the government functionaries and the corruption associated with such powers. The best route to kill corruption is to nip it in the bud. Automaton can help do that;
3) Provides a better level of comfort to public in terms of confidentiality in declarations;
4) Creates a stronger sense of trust and responsibility of honest declaration among people;
5) Automaton speeds up processes and is known to have resulted in enhanced collection of revenue and public data; and
6) Automation cuts down human resources costs and errors.
The Chairman FBR, who has strong appreciation of realities on ground such as the menace of government-public contacts, discretionary powers of government functionaries and cumbersome processes of documentation, recognised the importance of automation and went straight for its enforcement in FBR. As a first step, he successfully limited the direct contact between tax inspectors and public. He now appears to be moving with automation in FBR.
Last week, he inaugurated a new software called 'Centralized Sales Tax & FED Assessment & Processing (CSTAP)' to effectively monitor the sales tax returns developed by IR-Operations Wing of FBR. The purpose of the software is to identify the tax gaps and to determine actual Sales Tax/FED liabilities of all taxpayers. This software will also be used for the purpose of expeditious processing of refund claims.
In the earlier phase of Automation, the FBR had installed SAP - the state of art Enterprise Reporting Process (ERP) system. This system facilitated e-filing of tax returns with multiple benefits to public and FBR.
Other government entities also need to enforce automation in their functions.
Last week, the Commerce Ministry proposed a harmonised provincial sales tax regime through application of uniform sales tax rates on services and avoidance of double taxation, in addition to simplifying the filing procedure for online businesses in the draft E-Commerce Policy. Current applicable rates of sales tax in Punjab, Sindh, KPK and Balochistan are 16%, 13%, 15% and 15%, respectively. In general, public considers the procedures for hard-filing of sales tax returns as cumbersome and complicated. Automation and online business having transactions' data recorded in digital format will surely provide much relief to public.
Also, the Commerce Ministry in consultation with other stakeholders has finalized E-Commerce Policy framework envisaging the need for creating an enabling environment for holistic growth of e-commerce across all sectors of the country with special focus on development and promotion of SMEs, and making Pakistan a significant player of the regional and global digital economy. The main goal of the policy is to augment e-commerce industry's growth to make it one of the key drivers of Pakistan's economy.
A Chinese investment company is about to launch multiple IT-based projects in Pakistan with an aim to promote digital culture among the youth of the country by introducing best international practices. "We want to train the local youth and also start the capacity building programme for them to equip them with advanced technology in services sectors," Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Timesaco Donald-Li reportedly told media persons.
Replying to a question, he said that Timesaco would create millions of new jobs and business opportunities for youth through different e-commerce platforms in six major cities of the country.
Donald-Li said the company has plans to introduce different e-commerce platforms for youth, through which they would be able to do different online businesses. He said Pakistan has a potential youth of more than 100 million, now they are playing a very important role in Pakistan and they could contribute to national economy as well.
He said that Timesaco wants to empower the local investors and create a working environment especially in the IT sector.
Pakistan's future is Automation and e-business, particularly for young entrepreneurs. The vast majority of young entrepreneurs are good at IT, although Pakistan, in spite of having best IT hardware resources and human resources, has a very low global ranking in the fraternity of IT savvy countries. Pakistan needs to catch up.
(The writer is the former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019