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Fair Taxation For PovertyReduction And EqualityDr Ikram-ul-HaqAdvocate Supreme Court of Pakistan Author of over 1500 articles and 19 Books onTaxes and Also a member of International Fiscal Association (IFA)Huzaima BukhariAdvocate of High Court and Editor ‘Taxation and Adjunct Faculty Lahore Universityof Management Sciences (LUMS)SummaryThe total number of Pakistanis deprived ofbasic facilities like health and education is not lessthan 30 million. It is disclosed in the latest reportof the Word Bank, Addressing inequality in SouthAsia, that of 1,000 children born in Pakistan’spoorest population quintile, 94 will die within 12months and 120 within five years. The reportfurther claims that tax avoidance and evasion arepervasive in Pakistan while a major share of thetax revenue is spent on regressive subsidies. Anunusually large fraction of the typically lowgovernment revenue is often devoted to reducingthe final price of food, fertilizer, gas, andelectricity which benefits the rich more than thepoor. The Federal Government in 2013‐14collected Rs. 2254.5 billion, as against official1claim of Rs. 2266 billion, and transferred Rs. 1264billion to the provinces that are now responsibleto provide health and education after the 18thConstitutional Amendment passed in April 2010.The allocations of provinces for these sectors areinsufficient as they lack commitment, if not,money, to meet the basic needs of the people.Moreover, there exist large income and wealthinequalities in Pakistan and these have social andeconomic costs, causing violence and politicalinstability. Fairer politics that provides moreequal opportunities can advance society bybringing peace, social cohesion and use ofcollective wisdom.Better tax policy is essential to increasegovernment revenues and to improve the lives ofthe poor. When taxes are fair and governmentspending prioritizes essential public services,both poverty and inequality can be reduced. This2is well described by Dreze & Sen: ‘the impact ofeconomic growth on the lives of people is partly amatter of income distribution, but it also dependsgreatly on the use that is made of the publicrevenue generated by economic expansion’.Progressive and fair taxation on all kinds ofincome and wealth are an effective way of3redistribution. Delivering essential publicservices, such as universal access to education,health, drinking water and sanitation for thepoor, will reduce disparities in the society.Unfortunately, the tax system in Pakistan isunfair. It inflicts fiscal injustices by providingprivileges to a select group and places adisproportionate burden on the majority ofpeople. This system is not only creating a largedebt burden for the government but alsoincreasing the fiscal deficit and fueling poverty.It is a skewed system in which the poor mansubsidizes the rich man. The problem starts at thetop. The average worth of Pakistani members ofParliament is $900,000, with its richest membertopping $37 million, according to a study(December 2014) by the Pakistan Institute ofLegislative Development and Transparency inIslamabad. A report released by the Center forInvestigative Reporting in Pakistan revealed thatin 2011, about 70% of legislators did not file taxreturns, but no action was taken against themunder the law. Resultantly, in 2013, many of themagain entered the national and provincialparliaments. Although many of them enjoy a veryhigh standard of living, none of 1,072 legislators ‐members of Senate, national and provincialassemblies ‐ qualified among top 100 taxpayersto whom FBR rewarded on the basis of taxdeclarations for tax year 2013. It is shocking toknow that all the legislators cumulatively paid Rs.251 million that is just 0.03% of total direct taxcollection. They and other rich segments ofsociety get exemption through the delegatedpowers given to the Executive to issue StatutoryRegulatory Orders (SROs) without bringing thesame for discussion in the Parliament and publicdomain. This is unconstitutional and against thenorms of democratic disposition. There is urgentneed to end the issuance of SROs, exemption orconcession if necessary must be given by theParliament.Pakistan needs a paradigm shift in tax policy1Full text is available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/203952The figure in Budget 2013‐14 was estimated at Rs. 1590 billion vis‐à‐vistax target of Rs. 2475 billion3An uncertain glory‐ India and its contradictions by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze (2013)2and revamping of entire tax administration ‐establishment of a National Tax Agency, capableof generating sufficient resources for the federaland provincial governments must be the toppriority. Through consensus and democraticprocess, all the parliaments can enact laws forestablishing autonomous National Tax Agency,comprising specialists, rather than bureaucratsthat would facilitate people to deal with a singlebody rather than multiple agencies at national,provincial and local levels. The mode and workingof National Tax Agency can be discussed andfinalised under Council of Common Interest[Article 153] and its control can be placed underNational Economic Council [Article 156].Taxation, a potent instrument to shape andinfluence the socio‐economic policies of acountry, has not received due attention inPakistan. A rational tax policy discourages, evenpenalises those who possess assets that areeconomically unproductive. Heavy taxationdiscourages accumulation of such idle assets. Insocial democracy, the most important objectiveof taxation is to provide economic justice, whichrelates to distribution of tax burden and benefitsof public expenditure while maintaining verticaland horizontal equity. Taxation of the rich for thebenefit of the poor is at the core of sociald e m o c r a c y. I t e n c o m p a s s e s , b e s i d e sredistribution of wealth, such questions astreatment of weaker sections of society e.g.women and children, minorities, the disabled andunemployed. All these elements are missing inour polity and tax policy.Unfortunately in Pakistan, successive rulers,both military and civilian, used taxes as a tool toextort from the masses as much as possible fortheir own comforts and luxuries. By resorting torepressive tax laws, they make the rich, richer andthe poor, poorer. Our financial managers arecaught up in a dilemma. On the one hand there isa mounting pressure to reduce fiscal deficitthrough improved collections and on the other,they are not ready to abolish innumerable taxexemptions and concessions available to the richand mighty. They have no will to plug revenueleakages. Therefore we urgently call for thefollowing.∙ The federal government must increaseallocation and increase spending oneducation, primary health care, water andsanitation services to ensure universal access.∙ The federal government must introduceimmediate structural reforms in tax policy,based on the principles of equity, to expandthe domestic revenue base to finance theessential services mentioned above.Required reforms include:‐ Eliminating unnecessary concessions tothe affluent class and discretionary lawsto issue Statutory Regulatory Orders(SROs)‐ Shifting to progressive direct taxation ofi n c o m e , w e a l t h , a n d p r o p e r t ytransactions‐ Gradually reducing indirect tax, especiallysales tax which puts an undue burden onthe poor‐ Fairly taxing all economic sectors, alsosectors like agriculture, wholesalers, andreal estate that are currently notcontributing towards the tax revenue inproportion to their share in economy.Human development must be enhancedPakistan has a poor performance on humandevelopment indicators. In this situation,responsive democratic government must protectbasic rights of people on priority basis. ‘Diffusionof knowledge’ and skills is the powerful forceagainst inequality and positive force for upwardsocial mobility ‐ so is the access to quality healthcare services including safe drinking water andsanitation. Effective social protectionmechanisms have also worked well to reducedisparities. All these require additional4There is some previous research on the evaluation of tax progressivity in Pakistan. For example, see Ilyas (2004), Alauddin et al. (1981),Ahmed et al. (1986), Azfar (1972), Jeetun (1978), Malik et al. (1985, 1989) and Vaqar & Cathal (2009). However, there is no comprehensivestudy offering decomposition analysis of personal income tax system. In the developing countries like Pakistan, this area of research has inthe past received less importance, given that income tax constitutes relatively smaller portion of the overall revenue collections.3resources, targeting poor areas and people andused more effectively. In the light of abovesituation we call upon democratic government toimmediately take the following measures tonarrow down inequalities:Key facts on human development

  1. Pakistan is facing education crisis where
    5.5 million children are out of school, net
    Primary enrolment is only 57% and adult
    literacy about 58%. These national
    averages even mask huge gender and
    geographical disparities.
  2. Access to basic public health services is
    becoming a dream in Pakistan as public
    sector pulls out with less than 1% of GDP
    expenditure on health. Pakistan has
    highest child mortality in South Asia region
    with 89/1000 live births. Same is the case
    with maternal mortality ratio which is
    276/100,000 live births.
  3. H u n g e r a n d m a l n o u r i s h m e n t i s
    widespread in Pakistan and exacerbating
    due to disasters and increased political
    conflict. About 35 million people are
    malnourished and 46% of children under 5
    years of age are stunted, while 62%
    children in bottom 20% families are
  4. More than half of Pakistani population
    doesn’t have access to toilets‐ A shameful
    condition and about 11% don’t have access
    to improved drinking water sources.
    Public expenditure on health in Pakistan has
    always been under one per cent of GDP. This is too
    low in the face of threats from deadly infectious
    diseases, unsafe food, malnutrition and poor
    access to basic health. There is a bias towards
    tertiary care. Along with low priority, the primary
    and preventive care now has the additional
    problem of providing security for health workers,
    especially the polio workers. The Budgetary
    allocations continue to be low. In the entire
    Federal and Provincial budgetary outlays for
    2014‐15, health receives only 3.1 per cent.
    Balochistan makes the highest allocation,
    followed by KP and Sindh. The lowest allocation
    has been made by the Punjab, i.e. 5.4 per cent,
    which is slightly less than the revised allocation of
    the previous year.
    The internationally recognised right to
    education is acknowledged in the 18th
    Amendment to the Constitution by inserting
    Article 25A to make elementary education a
    fundamental right. The said Article states: “Right
    to education.‐ The State shall provide free and
    compulsory education to all children of the age of
    five to sixteen years in such manner as may be
    determined by law.” Education is considered as an
    important means to realise other social and
    economic rights. Equitable and sustainable
    development is not possible without an educated
    population. Budgetary allocations, however, do
    not raise hopes of an early realisation of the goal
    of universal primary education. The quality and
    the content of education also continue to be
    lower down in the scale of priorities.
    As a percentage of GDP, the total expenditure
    on education is increasing but at a snail’s pace.
    The budgets for 2014‐15 promise to increase,
    however, allocations are still far less than the
    level achieved in most developing countries. The
    expenditure is low even as a proportion of the
    total budgetary expenditure. It was budgeted at
    9.28 per cent in 2014‐15, which was lower than
    the 10 per cent achieved in 2013‐14 and 9.75 per
    cent in 2012‐13. While the Federal Government
    has reduced its allocations after devolution of
    education to provinces, the share of education in
    In 2013‐14, the provincial component of the
    PSDP was budgeted at an ambitious level of Rs
    615 billion. The revised estimate was far lower at
    Rs 390 billion. The ambition in the budget for
    2014‐15 continues, as the allocation stands at Rs
    650 billion. The Federal Government requires the
    provinces to show a surplus of Rs 289 billion. In
    simplest terms, this means that provinces will be
    spending that much less on development. With
    education, health, labour, law and order and
    justice system being provincial subjects, the
    delivery of social and economic rights will be
    poorly resourced.
    the respective budgets of
    the provinces for 2014‐15
    is less than the revised
    expenditure in 2013‐14,
    the largest reduction of
    around 10 percentage
    points being in the case of
    the largest province. The
    highest proportion of the
    budget is allocated to
    education in KP, followed
    by Balochistan, Punjab and
    The total spending on
    social sectors by the
    federal and provincial
    governments is less that
    2% of GDP which is one of
    the lowest in the world.
    presided over a hugely
    successful redistribution
    p r o g ra m m e t h a t h a s
    reduced inequality has a
    tax‐to‐GDP ratio of 34%.
    But a more important
    factor is to look at tax
    potential in the economy
    a n d s u f f i c i e n c y o f
    collection. Sufficiency,
    along with progressivity
    are principal factors of a
    fair tax system. Collection
    of less revenue than
    potential leads to reduced
    social sector allocations
    and external borrowing to
    fill the fiscal deficit which
    compromises political and
    economic decision making
    In 1991, Pakistan’s fiscal
    Pakistan can easily collect Rs. 8
    trillion at federal level alone to
    eliminate fiscal deficit. If 10 million
    individuals having annual taxable
    income of Rs 1.5 million (a very
    conservative estimate) file their
    returns, total income tax collection
    from them at the prevalent tax
    rates would come to Rs. 3750
    billion. If income tax collected from
    corporate bodies, other non‐
    individual taxpayers and
    individuals having income between
    Rs. 400,000 to Rs. 1,000,000 is
    added, the gross figure would not
    be less than Rs. 5000 billion. FBR
    collected only Rs. 716 billion as
    income tax in the fiscal year 2012‐
    T h i s r e q u i r e s
    i n c r e a s i n g t a x
    History of insufficient tax collection
    To raise government spending on essential
    services, Pakistan must increase total tax
    revenues. Pakistan’s tax‐to‐GDP ratio remained
    between 8.0 to 10.0percent of GDP during past 13
    years, generally lowest in the world. As way of
    deficit was just Rs. 80 billion. It increased to 8
    percent of GDP against the budgeted target of 4.7
    percent in 2012‐13. It was mainly due to 19
    percent slippages in FBR budgeted tax revenue.
    The country has a potential to generate tax
    revenue of Rs. 12 trillion at federal and provincial
    levels, this will be 4‐5 times higher than current
    collections by taking effective measures
    and can domestically finance pro‐poor
    social protection programmes, universal
    primary education and health care‐ which
    in turn have high value for low income
    [The blue box on revenue capacity also
    fits in this section]
    Collection falls short of revenue targets
    FBR faces major challenges including
    political and institutional, to meet revenue
    targets every year. In 2012‐13, shortfall
    recorded of Rs. 441 billion was the worst
    ever in history. FBR has failed to tap the
    actual tax potential that is not less than Rs.
    comparison, India’s rate, whilst still low, is almost
    double, whilst Brazil whose government has
    8 trillion that was lost due to exemptions,
    concessions and institutional inefficiency. At
    FBR: Historical Collection Trend
    (Rs. in Billion)
    Source: FBR’s Biannual Review, Volume 13, No. 4, January‐June (2013‐2014)
    provincial level, there is no will to collect
    agricultural income tax from the rich absentee
    Better to give following table to back up the
    above claim:
    Proportion of taxes in total revenue 14‐15
    High indirect taxes worsen inequality
    The single most disturbing factor for
    increased income and wealth inequalities
    remains the regressive tax system in Pakistan.
    Regressive tax system in Pakistan is in the form of
    indirect taxes that take larger portion of meager
    income of a poor man and a very small slice of the
    substantial income of a rich citizen. Incidence of
    tax on the poor during the last 20 years has
    increased substantively (35%) while the rich are
    paying less on their colossal income and
    wealthfor them tax burden has decreased by 18%
    for the same period. Since 1977 regressive taxes
    have gradually been replacing progressive
    onesthe real brunt came in 1991 when
    presumptive taxes were introduced and the rich
    got cover of laws like Protection of Economic
    Reforms Act, 1992. The progressive taxation
    further distorted in year 1999 and later when the
    rich were given exemption from wealth and
    capital gain taxation and personal income tax
    Details of indirect taxes
    Source: Federal budget 2014‐15
    rates were reduced for higher income earners”.
    Figures below depict the proportion of direct
    taxes and their contribution in overall revenue.
    Figure at upper left shows that indirect taxes
    contribute 41% in total revenue in comparison to
    30% contribution of direct taxes, similarly figure
    Figures now verified by the State Bank of Pakistan
    Poverty figures, Business Recorder, 21 October 2011
    Available at www.fbr.gov.pk
    on left further breaks down the composition of
    indirect taxes for the year of 2013‐14 in which
    1,622 billion of indirect taxes, 65% [Rs. 1054
    billion] are generated through sales tax which
    includes all items used by the poor hence
    disproportionately affects the income of poor
    Even a cursory look at FBR’s Year Book 2013‐
    14 and s Year Book 2012‐13, , reveal that main
    reliance (75%) is on indirect taxes, burden of
    which is borne by the poor, the weaker and the
    less privileged sections of the society.
    In Pakistan, there has been a shift from
    equitable taxes to highly inequitable ones. The
    dependence on indirect taxes ‐ even in income tax
    law under the garb of presumptive income has
    transferred the burden of taxes from the rich to
    the poor. The common people are paying an
    exorbitant sales tax of 17% (in fact 35%‐40% on
    finished imported goods after duties, mandatory
    value addition under sales tax law and income tax
    at source) on essential commodities while the
    rich are paying no wealth tax/income tax on their
    colossal assets/incomes. Following table depicts
    was 3.5% [source: FBR’s Year Books 2004‐05 to
    2013‐14 and Economic Surveys 2004‐5 to 2013‐
    Subsidizing rich and taxing poor
    The current regressive taxation system in
    Pakistan can be categorized pro‐rich as it
    disproportionately taxes majority and benefits
    few. The narrative that Pakistanis do not pay
    taxesis a farce. The ground reality is that the
    common citizens are over‐taxed; whereas the
    affluent class enjoys tax breaks. It is an
    undeniable fact that about 60 million active
    mobile users with effect from July 1, 2013 are
    paying exorbitant tax of over 34.5%federal excise
    or sales tax of 19.5% and adjustable income tax of
    15%. Majority of them have income below the
    taxable limit. There is no way they can get refund
    of the adjustable 15% income tax withheld at
    source, as cost of filing of return would be a lot
    more and the procedure is too cumbersome.
    Example‐I: Lower tax rates for Rich property
    Rich property owners ‐ who, after getting state
    lands at throw‐away prices, sell them at market
    rate and the gain is not taxed as “adventure in
    the nature of trade,” though so required under
    section 18 read with section 2(9) of the Income
    Tax Ordinance, 2001. Those who convert them
    into income‐generating assets e.g. commercial
    buildings etc ‐ have been paying lower rate of
    tax on rental income till tax year 2013 whereas
    salaried persons on the same income were
    made to pay higher tax! This concessional tax
    regime for the rich property owners has now
    been removed with effect from tax year 2014
    bringing it at par with others.
    Income tax as percentage of GDP
    Source: Year books 2004‐05 to 2012‐13 of FBR and Economic Surveys.
    gradual reduction, rather increase in the total
    share of income tax as percentage of GDP.
    Reduction in the size of middle class is causing
    a negative impact on contribution of direct taxes
    in the overall revenue of Pakistan. The share of
    income tax, according to official figures, as
    percentage of GDP is continuously declining; it
    was merely 25 in 2013‐14, 2‐1% in 2012‐13, 2.2%
    in 2011‐12, 2.4% in 2010‐11, 2.5% in 2009‐10,
    2.6% in 2008‐09, 2.9% in 2007‐08, 3.2% in 2006‐
    07, 3.3% in 2005‐2006, whereas in 2004‐2005 it
    Example‐II: Poor widows vis‐à‐vis wealthy
    investors ‐ interest income taxation
    A rich person earning Rs. 6 million per annum as
    interest from bank pays Rs. 600,000 as tax under
    presumptive regime, whereas tax liability on
    this income of a businessperson for tax year
    2013 comes to Rs. 1,322,500. The person has
    been saving an average tax of over Rs. 700,000
    per annum since 1991 when 10% flat taxation
    was introduced benefitting the rich. Total tax
    saving by him/her in 22 years is more than Rs. 122
    million. In contrast, a widow, who is earning a
    paltry income of Rs. 390,000 per annum from the
    same source, investing her deceased husband’s
    gratuity in a national saving scheme or a bank
    account to make both ends meet, has had to pay tax
    of Rs. 39,000 although her income maybe below
    taxable limits or marginally taxable. In 22 years, she
    would have paid Rs. 858,000. This kind of tax
    system creates economic disparities by benefiting
    the rich.
    industrialists, causing loss of Rs. 8 billion to the
    national exchequer.
  5. 50% cut of sales tax for steel melters causing
    revenue loss of nearly Rs. 4 billion.
    According to the findings of a study conducted by
    FBR “aggregate tax expenditure being the cost of
    exemptions, concessions and erosion of the tax base
    in the federal tax system during the last five years
    (2008‐13) was not less than Rs. 750 billion ”.
    Approximately 2,000 tariff lines (representing 50
    What is driving fiscal injustices?
    The nexus of wealth concentration; capture of
    per cent of the SROs) are liable for import duties of
    less than 5.1 per cent, with almost 900 of them zero‐
    rated! Government faces a massive revenue shortfall
    as two third imports are duty free.
    Tax Havens
    In their local currency, the total funds held by
    individuals and entities from Pakistan in Swiss banks
    stood at over Rs. 1.5 trillion as on December 31,
    2012.The report confirming that Pakistanis possess
    larger funds than Indians in Switzerland alone and
    were moving the same elsewhere. If we add Dubai
    and other such centres where the rich and mighty
    have been shifting billions, the figure would be
    horrendously large ‐ many times what is lying in
    Switzerland. It is not a matter of a few billions ‐ the
    amount is at least ten times the collection of FBR. The
    issue of alleged stashing of black money in Swiss
    banks has been a matter of intense debate in
    Pakistan, as there are reports of some top former
    government leaders having parked their money in
    banks in the European country due to their hugely
    popular ‘safe‐haven’ status. However, a higher
    amount than Indian entities assumes significance
    because Pakistan is a much smaller country in terms
    of population and area. Still, the quantum of money
    resources and government power including
    parliament are the major challenges. Tax laws made
    by powerful elites allow loopholes, making
    concessions legal. This vicious cycle‐ in which power
    creating loopholes in tax system in order to draw
    wealth through illegal means‐in turn uses same
    wealth to strengthen power‐ is a major cause of
    rising inequalities.
    Pro‐rich tax exemptions are unfair and undermine
    The tax codes of Pakistan are operated and
    controlled through executive orders called statutory
    regulatory orders (SROs). In many cases, these SROs
    give exemptions and concessions to the rich,
    distorting the entire tax base and aligned with
    shifting the burden of tax on the poor.
    Federal Government‐in real terms FBR‐ is
    empowered to exempt any income or specific
    persons from income tax, prescribe special reduced
    rates of tax for certain persons or allow a reduction in
    tax liability by making amendments in the Second
    Schedule to the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. The
    held by Swiss banks for their Pakistani clients was
    FBR under the existing income law since 2002 has
    inserted a number of exemption clauses in the
    Second Schedule to the Ordinance. The sales tax and
    federal excise laws are also infected with numerous
    exemptions and concessions. Some examples of tax
    concessions are:
  6. withdrawal of the biggest new revenue spinner ‐
    1% withholding tax on manufacturing ‐ resulting
    in a revenue loss of Rs. 18 billion.
  7. drastic cut of federal excise duty on sugar to 0.5%
    aimed at benefiting the influential sugar
    about 1.5 per cent higher than the equivalent figure
    for Indians at 1,421 million Swiss francs (about Rs 910
    billion) at the end of 2012 .
    This policy brief has been developed by Oxfam
    Novib in collaboration with Indus Consortium &
    Centre for Inclusive Growth with the aim to push for
    structural tax reforms to deepen fiscal space, narrow
    down growing inequalities and reducing critical gap
    in human development.
    Statement reported in daily The News, March 26, 2014
    The Times of Indiaof June 21, 2013

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