Tax Returns of Parliamentarians

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It’s a little surprising that Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin felt the need to educate Pakistanis about the importance of making tax returns of parliamentarians public because “it would ensure transparency and set an example for others”. In most democratic societies, such things are understood to be part and parcel of representative government. And it suits a sitting finance minister far more to remove distortions from the existing tax structure as opposed to complaining about problems in it. Still, one can hope that publishing these tax returns will make more parliamentarians do their national duty and help make the national kitty more respectable in the process.
For a start, those found not paying any taxes at all, like former PM Yousaf Gilani, should be made to answer for the lapse and, should the explanations leave a little something to be desired, required funds should be squeezed out of them, along with stipulated fines, of course. Because this news wouldn’t be worth the paper it is printed on if all people get from it is the knowledge that the most powerful people in the country do not pay their fair share of taxes and get away with it all the time. So, the FBR better have the proverbial whip ready if it does not want this to be yet another self-defeating exercise.
There are no two opinions about the fact that tax collection is one of the country’s biggest problems. We’re weak on taxes, so we have to rely on export revenue. But since we’re also very weak on value-added exports that make a difference, we’re forced to look elsewhere for necessary funds; like the odd bulge in remittances or the good old route of simply borrowing more and more. And everybody knows well enough where that leaves us. This initiative, then, is appreciated a step in the right direction, even if it has come very late in the day. But how necessary action following this is taken will tell a lot more.