Monday, May 6, 2013

Activist Judge Torpedoes Tax Collection Project in Pakistan

In yet another egregious example of  increasing judicial activism, Islamabad High Court's Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, the judge who also ordered Musharraf's arrest, has suspended Pakistan's top tax collector Arshad Hakeem. Hakeem was working on an ambitious technology-based project to go after powerful tax dodgers in the country.

In a country where the rich and the powerful pay little or no tax, Ali Arshad Hakeem became "a hated man" in just seven months after his appointment as FBR chairman, according to a report in the UK's Telegraph newspaper.  Coming from IT and business management background  Hakeem put in place a database designed to monitor the spending habits of millions of people, and calculate how much tax they owed. At the click of a mouse, he could look up details of the elite's holiday habits, electricity bills and bank accounts, complete with photos, addresses and vehicle details, said the newspaper.

By linking government databases on cars, imports, exports and sales tax among others, he built a powerful tool for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) that could identify individuals and companies which were not paying their fair share. For income tax, his team fed 1,700 factors into a model which calculated how much was owed.

Pakistan tax-gdp is among the lowest and its tax policies are among the most regressive in the world. Direct taxes make up less than 3.5 percent of GDP, with wide ranging exemptions to powerful segments of society coupled with governance issues at Federal Board of Revenue, according to former finance minister Shaukat Tarin. The bulk of the tax receipts are collected in the form of sales tax, placing the heaviest burden on the lower-income people who spend almost all of their income on their basic needs.

 Hakeem's efforts to change the situation and collect from the rich and powerful came to a grinding halt last month when Justice Siddiqui suspended Mr Hakeem for alleged violations of appointment rules.

Other damaging examples of economic judicial activism include cancellation of Pakistan Steel Mills privatization, annulling of Reko Diq mining contract and voiding of rental power deals with foreign investors.

Since the cancellation of Pakistan Steel Mills privatization deal in 2006, PSMC has suffered huge losses that cost the taxpayers tens of billions of rupees--Rs 26.5 billion in 2009,  Rs 11.5 billion in 2010, Rs 11.4 billion in 2011 and Rs 21 billion in 2012. Had Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's government been allowed to proceed with privatization in 2006, the PSMC would have been a significant contributor to the national exchequer rather than a huge drain on the public treasury.  The money saved could have been used to fund education, healthcare, energy and infrastructure projects in the country.

Similarly, the Supreme Court has intervened and scared away foreign investors by its decisions in Reko Diq and Karkey rental power company. Had Reko Diq been allowed to continue, it would have represented a huge $3.3 billion foreign investment in Pakistan's Balochistan region.

Umar Cheema, a journalist and author of the report that showed how few politicians pay tax, told Telegraph's Rob Crilly that anyone attempting reform risked being brought down. "He made people realize the FBR was doing something under his watch, even though he was not there for very long" he said.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Tax Evasion in Pakistan

Pakistan's Best Tax Collector Fired by PPP Govt

Vindictive Judges Pursue Musharraf

Saving Education in Pakistan

Political Patronage Trumps Public Policy

Twin Energy Shortages in Pakistan

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's Legacy

1 comment:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an FT report on Nawaz Sharif's plans to revive economy:

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s new prime minister, will appoint private sector managers to run state companies in efforts to revive an economy starved of investment, say leaders of his party.
Mr Sharif, who has been prime minister twice before, launched a similar policy in 1997 when he appointed commercial bankers to run three large public sector banks. All three became profitable and two, Habib Bank and United Bank, were privatised.

The plan faces a backlash from trade unions. Mr Sharif’s aides compared the process to the privatisations in the UK by Margaret Thatcher after she became prime minister in 1979.
Sartaj Aziz, former finance and foreign minister and a leader of Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told the Financial Times: “The formula is simple. You appoint good people, you allow them to appoint their people and you empower them. The government helps wherever it can.”

Officials said Ishaq Dar, a confidant of Mr Sharif, would take up his former post of finance minister in the new government.
Final results have yet to be declared but business leaders have welcomed a vote that will probably allow Mr Sharif, a wealthy Punjabi steel magnate, to have an absolute majority in parliament without the need for coalition partners.
Investors in Pakistan said they were tired of grappling with power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, widespread corruption in public life and an inefficient public sector. Mr Sharif has identified rescuing the economy as his number one priority.
A central bank official said public sector companies in power, rail transport and aviation run up huge losses each year amounting to more than 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product. “These are clearly white elephants,” he said.
Mian Muhammad Mansha, the Lahore-based owner of a Pakistani conglomerate who is reputed to be the country’s richest man, approvingly quoted a reference to Thatcher as a “modern Joan of Arc” and said Pakistan needed structural reforms similar to hers.
“First you need to get all these public sector companies out of government control,” he said. “This will release so much money that they are losing and it will make politics clean.”

The 1997 bank plan saw Mr Sharif’s government dismiss some 20,000 employees who were all given large redundancy payments. The current reform plan may meet resistance not only from unions but from politicians who are used to arranging contracts for their businesses from public sector companies.

“Mr Sharif will have to keep his own politicians under control if he wants his plan to succeed. In the past, many have thrived on patronage,” said Suhail Jehangir Malik, an economist. “Public sector companies are a huge drain on our national economy. Reforming them must be a primary objective for the new government.”
The plan is likely to win support from international donors, including the International Monetary Fund, which is expecting to begin negotiations shortly on a new $9bn loan to stave off a balance of payments crisis. Pakistan’s foreign reserves are equivalent to the value of two months of imports.
“The problem with Pakistan is both macroeconomic weakness and long-term structural issues,” said one person involved in preliminary talks with the interim government in power over the election period. “Given the severity of the economic problems, we do need to have a government that is going to undertake quite serious economic reforms.”
Under a so-called extended fund facility of up to four years, Pakistan would be expected to cut its budget deficit by increasing tax revenues, directing subsidies more accurately towards the poor and introducing policies to encourage foreign direct investment.


http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/374bc1a6-bbe8-11e2-a4b4-00144feab7de.html