Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq
On March 12, 2020, as per Press release of Ministry of Finance, the National Tax Council [NTC] was established and its terms of reference (ToRs) approved. According to a Press report, “The harmonisation of GST is part of the World Bank’s budgetary support loan of US$750 to US$900 million”. It is mentioned in the report that as “suggested by IMF, the centre and provinces have finally agreed to establish NTC “to resolve all tax-related issues, especially for the harmonisation of general sales tax (GST) across the country”. It confirms that our governments do nothing unless lenders/donors force them to do so and also provide more loans.
It was decided that NTC would have technical level representations from the federation and federating units to resolve tax-related issues without amending the constitution. The NTC has an executive committee, comprising federal finance secretary, Chairman of FBR, provincial finance secretaries and heads of the provincial revenue authorities, namely, Punjab Revenue Authority (PRA), Sindh Revenue Board (SRB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Revenue Authority (KPRA) and Balochistan Revenue Authority (BRA). The executive committee of NTC is to forward its suggestions/proposals for approval by the NTC. The NTC recommendations will be finalised in terms of majority to be presented before Monitoring Committee of the National Finance Commission (NFC). The NTC, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank has yet not considered the idea of establishing National Tax Academy (NTA) in Islamabad as elaborated in Case for All-Pakistan Unified Tax Service: PTI & innovative tax reforms, Business Recorder, August 31, 2018 as under:
As an immediate measure, the Directorate General of Training and Research Inland Revenue (DOT) in Allama Iqbal Town Lahore can be transformed into National Tax Academy (NTA) on the lines of National Police Academy in Islamabad. At a later stage, a state of the art NTA may be established in Islamabad, for achieving the long run strategic objectives of APUTS, where all federal and provincial taxes such as income tax, sales tax, federal excise, customs, taxes administered by cantonment boards, property tax, agricultural tax, land revenue, capital value tax, registration fees, professional tax, infrastructure cess, registration fee and all other miscellaneous taxes could be taught in a strategically conceived national tax framework. Such a framework can be devised, for example, by expanding Kenny and Winer’s above mentioned research in Pakistan’s context, though it is not the only option. Methodologically, the entire project needs to be treated as a megaproject where the break-fix model approach has the scope to be applied. It is because of multiple legal, administrative and constitutional issues among the federal and provincial governments, states and regions. This model suggests initiating a project, breaking it, identifying the shortcomings, fixing them and continuing.
The path given to NTC is faulty. It confirms that the IMF/World Bank and even our own officers do not have any knowledge as how to move towards harmonisation of taxes and consolidation of fragmented tax administration by establishing NTA. It was explained in Case for All-Pakistan Unified Tax Service: PTI & innovative tax reforms, Business Recorder, August 31, 2018, as under:
“Now that the PTI-led government is in power with a singular vision which may better be termed as “New Pakistan”, it is high time to address the administrative issues of tax collection necessary for optimizing revenue collection as per the country’s potential. In this regard, the formation of All Pakistan Unified Tax Service (APUTS) is the first major step towards harmonizing the tax system and integration of taxes in Pakistan.
The proposed APUTS will function similar to All Pakistan Unified Group (APUG) services such as Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) and Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). The proposed APUTS will initially harmonize three main tax agencies: (1) FBR, (2) provincial tax authorities such as SRB & PRA, and (3) provincial Excise and Taxation departments. At a later stage, after the successful formation of APUTS, all other tax agencies such as Pakistan Customs Service and BOR may also be given an option to join APUTS. A similar option may also be extended to Military Lands and Cantonment Group (ML&CG) who are currently the custodians of tax collection in cantonment areas. It may be highlighted that there is no intention or scope of any kind of inter-occupational service groups’ rivalry here; it is a win-win situation for everyone. The officers will be posted anywhere in Pakistan, both at federal and provincial levels, directly from the FBR Headquarters. An officer of the rank of Joint Secretary from Establishment Division may also be posted in FBR who would keep liaison with FBR over administrative issues of posting and transfers of officers. The officers performing better may be given station of their choice while the corrupt and inefficient may be posted outside the province as punishment. The provinces will continue to enjoy the benefits and powers under the 18th Amendment as is the case of working of the PAS and PSP officers.
It is also important to highlight some administrative misunderstandings that the PTI-led government may face in forming APUTS. The PAS and provincial services may raise objections on the formation of APUTS because they are predominantly dealing with the provincial E&T, BOR and other revenue collection departments. Similar objections may be raised by the cantonment boards. The provincial revenue authorities formed after the 18th Amendment are also functioning under the respective Chief Secretaries and Chairmen who mainly belong to PAS. However, such misunderstandings may easily be overcome by highlighting the fact that the purpose APUTS is to discipline and harmonize tax collection in the country and it is not targeted at grabbing the powers of provincial governments or cantonment boards. Its working will be just like the working of PAS and PSP where the services of federal officers can be placed at the disposal of provincial governments, other departments and institutions. Furthermore, the officers from provincial services may also be posted in the tax agencies of the provinces. In this regard, the Establishment Division may issue an Office Memorandum (O.M) in terms of Civil Servants (Appointment, Promotion and Transfer) Rules, 1973. A similar O.M. was issued by the Establishment Division when the erstwhile Income Tax Group was successfully transformed into IRS back in 2010.
The formation of APUTS will usher in a new era of reformed taxation in Pakistan. It will be a beginning of an end to the British era scattered tax system that was meant to subjugate the masses. It will be a first serious step towards eliminating multiple tax authorities, and integrating taxes thus paving way for one window tax operations in Pakistan. As a strong and accountable service, the APUTS will have the courage to say no to illegal orders and political interference as envisioned by the Premier Imran Khan. Through better data coordination among federal and provincial tax authorities, the APUTS will not only be better equipped with information for broadening the tax base but also a step forward towards integrating taxes through national level long term strategic planning”.
[To be continued]
The writers, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).