Taxpayers’ Grievances


Iftekhar A Khan

It’s a usual harangue by the government that people don’t pay taxes. And that even the registered taxpayers allotted with National Tax Number by the FBR skip paying taxes due to them. On the other hand, most taxpayers claim that their hard-earned tax money is not utilised in the right direction, which means in the well-being of the public. In this country where the taxation system lacks credibility, the blame game between the taxpayers and the government goes on unabated.
Taxpayers’ main objection is against the top-heavy civil-mil bureaucracies that are provided with palatial official homes, fleets of cars and staff for the household, not to mention the protocols accorded to the high officials. When the taxpayers observe the protocols when they’re hounded by the police to clear the way on the roads, their heartburn is but natural. They tell each other, “Look at this how our tax money is mercilessly flaunted on the roads while we stand barricaded.” Could the fall in remittances lately be one of the reasons why the expatriates hesitate to send their money back home because they apprehend their earnings would be expended on wasteful pursuits by the inflated government? For instance, how many ministers and SAPMs, a newly contrived acronym, are employed by the government? How many of them are needed and how many simply enjoy the perks and privileges at public expense? Since March 2023 the government has had 34 Federal Ministers, 7 Ministers of State, 4 advisers and 39 Special Assistants to the Prime Minister. Does a cabinet as large as this represent the PM’s idea of austerity that he promised? Only he could tell. The taxpayers believe that if the civil bureaucracy and cabinet are even cut to half its present size, the administration will remain as efficient or inefficient as it presently is.
Since the COAS in his recent address gave the good news that the national economy will turn around within a year, people attach a lot of hope to what he resolutely committed. But he will have to look into and prevent the wastage of public funds in various government organisations, including his own. Public good wishes are with him. My considered opinion, however, is that Gen Asim Munir as the army chief and Justice Qazi Faez Isa as the chief justice of the Supreme Court after Justice Bhandial rides into the sunset, the nation will be guided to the morally straight path of justice and meritocracy. With the two principled gentlemen at the national helm of affairs, the widespread corruption and nepotism in government departments will automatically be controlled. Honesty and morality travel from top to bottom.
Our salvation lies in giving a free hand to the industrialists. Encourage them to set up industries in backward areas by giving them incentives of relief in tax. The vast uncultivated and arid areas along the Indus Highway in Dera Ghazi Khan Division are ideal for establishing industries. It will employ the local population that now shifts to big cities for want of jobs. Cities like Lahore are expanding in all directions but lacking in necessary civic amenities – efficient sewage systems in the inner city, for example.
Similarly, the deserted lands comprising dunes in District Muzaffargarh could be utilised for industrialisation. Presently, a powerhouse and at some distance from it a hospital operating in the area. The hospital was financed and established courtesy of the government of Turkey. The surroundings are nothing but dunes and some wild trees. In the vast barren and sandy land, setting up tax-free zones on the pattern of the Gadoon industrial area in District Swabi of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa deserves urgent attention. The Gadoon zone is located on 1611 acres only while thousands of acres of sandy land in Muzaffargarh lying waste awaits to be utilised. Compare it with the Quaid-E-Azam Business Park located on 2060 acres of the most fertile rice-growing area in Sheikhupura along the M-2 Motorway. What a waste of arable land!
The Prime Minister is an achiever and he could set up tax-free economic zones on the barren lands mentioned above, if he makes up his mind. After all, he ordered a double road built to replace a single road from the Turkish Hospital to District Dera Ghazi Khan. It has made a huge difference to facilitate the transportation of fresh fruit and numerous other cargo from Balochistan to Punjab without wasting time on the road. Both the province of Balochistan and Dera Ghazi Khan are deprived lands that need government attention. Instead of erecting large multi-storey government office buildings and spending on the razzle-dazzle of the officialdom, the poor and needy of underdeveloped areas deserve better living conditions, health and education.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist and can be reached at pinecity