Dr Ikramul Haq
It is shocking that only two political parties filed income tax returns for tax year 2020 out of 27 registered with FBR and 127 with Election Commission of Pakistan despite section 114(1)(ac) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 makes it mandatory. How can we expect rule of law in Pakistan, when 125 political parties are committing flagrant violation of Article 5(2) of the Constitution? They keep on bashing FBR but fail to fulfill the command that “Obedience to the Constitution and law is the inviolable obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan”—FBR: FATF challenges, Daily Times, March 14, 2021.
It is now confirmed on the basis of accessing (on March 19, 2021 at 11 am) and downloading the Active Taxpayers List (ATL) of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) that the three leading parties of Pakistan, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML-N] and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), are not included in the list of filers. Shockingly, political parties, with the exception of just two, have not been filing income tax returns, which is their legal obligation and also command of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution’]. Article 17(3) of the Constitution clearly says: Every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with law.
“(2) Obedience to the Constitution and law is the inviolable obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan”.
Avoiding filing income tax returns to conceal or not disclose sources of funds by the political parties is a flagrant violation of Article 5(2) read with Article 17(3) of the Constitution, reproduced above. It is strange that this remains unnoticed in mainstream electronic media. The all-knowing anchors, claiming to be the opinion makers and custodians of democracy, rule of law and epitome of “truth”, ethics etc. are silent even after publishing of FBR: FATF challenges, Daily Times, March 14, 2021, widely circulated in the social media and mentioning this fact of non-compliance by 125 parties out of 127 registered with ECP. None of them, did not even do a segment on it, what to speak of a full-fledged programme. This shows their sham commitment to the cause of democratic values and exposes tall claims of “accountability” of all through the Fourth Pillar of State!
Section 182A imposes compulsory surcharge of Rs. 1000 on individuals, Rs. 10,000 on Association of Persons (AOPs) and Rs.25,000 on all those who filed returns for tax year 2020 after the due/extended date to become part of ATL, despite extraordinary circumstances arising due to Covid-19 endemic with complete and partial lockdowns that could have been relaxed under section 183 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 [“the Ordinance”] by the Federal Government. However, when the matter comes to political parties, either ruling as coalition partners of the PTI Government in three provinces or part of the so-called Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) or not active but registered with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), FBR shows laxity. It should have imposed penalty under section 182 and even invoked prosecution under section 191(a) read with section 200(b) of the Ordinance for willful and perpetual default “punishable on conviction with a fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees or imprisonment of head of party for a term not exceeding two years, or both”.
FBR is duty-bound to enforce tax laws enacted by the Parliament. It has failed to take to task all the tax-defiant political parties and those legislators who have been violating the command of Article 5(2) of the Constitution to pay their taxes diligently. Majority of the legislators, who are under oath to safeguard the Constitution, are the worst violators by not filing tax returns or declaring laughable incomes, compared to their lavish life-style and accumulating of enormous assets (Rich legislators of a poor nation, Daily Times, November 15, 2020).
In India, section 13A of Income Tax Act, 1961 requires political parties to file returns. It confers tax-exemption to a registered political party subject to the following:
- maintains such books of accounts and other documents enabling the tax officer to properly deduce the income therefrom;
- for each such voluntary contribution [other than contribution by way of electoral bond] in excess of INR 25,000, keeps and maintains a record of such contribution and the name and address of the person who has made such contribution;
- the accounts are audited by the certified chartered accountant; and
- any donation in excess of INR 2,000 by an account payee cheque drawn on a bank or an account payee bank draft or use of electronic clearing system through a bank account or through electoral bond (that is, cash donation in excess of INR 2000 is not allowed—with effect from assessment year 2018-19.
The Chief Election Commissioner of India seeks from the Indian Central Board of Direct Taxes detail scrutiny of accounts submitted by political parties. The Central Information Commission of India directs Income Tax Department to disclose in public interest, details of all providing funds to political parties in their tax returns. With this information in public domain, the Commission ensures transparency in the funding of both small and big parties, besides blocking the flow of black money in the electoral process. In Pakistan, neither ECP nor FBR has ever bothered to consider this vital matter. The ECP must also make public, accounts filed by political parties under section 210 of Election Act, 2017 read with Rule 159 of the Election Rules, 2017.
It is pertinent to mention that non-profit organisations (NPOs) were exempt prior to tax year 2014 when under the new section 100C of the Ordinance this exemption was converted into 100% tax credit on fulfillment of certain conditions as amended from time to time. Interestingly, all political parties then registered with ECP failed to file tax returns being NPOs under section 2(36) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. Before the ECP, political parties do not disclose names of contributors/donors/financiers.
In 2017, the ruling PML-N received a notice from FBR for filing of tax return. The Finance Minister, now a fugitive, asked his cronies to block this move. The more loyal than king Chairman of FBR readily obliged and in the Finance Bill 2017 proposed exemption under clause (143) in Part I, Second Schedule to the Ordinance: “Any income derived by a political party registered under the Political Parties Order, 2002 with the Election Commission of Pakistan”. It was in blatant violation of Article 17(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan. Luckily, it was dropped after resistance from many, both inside and outside the Parliament. Now, PTI in Government is defying the Ordinance while making claims that it wants to promote tax culture in Pakistan—the violator is asking others to abide law! What a mockery of “justice” that it had resolved to provide to all.
The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)