THE asset declarations submitted by our political leadership can only be described as a joke. Consider the example of Nawaz Sharif. In the half decade between 2010 and 2015, his declared assets went from Rs166m to Rs2bn, representing more than a 10-fold increase.
At the same time, his taxes paid went from Rs2m to Rs2.6m in 2014, an increase of little more than one-third, which on a per-year basis is below inflation for these years.
There are very few countries in the world where an individual’s assets can multiply by a factor of 10 while his or her taxable income increases at a rate that is below inflation; and there are even fewer where this feat can be achieved by a public figure like the prime minister.
At face value, the asset declarations tell a tale of a tax system so riddled with holes that one can become a billionaire without paying any meaningful taxes. And if the figures are not taken at face value, we are left to surmise that the asset declarations reveal only a fraction of what the reality is.
Even the best-case scenario reveals a severely defective system, with the prime minister as the emblem of its dysfunction.
But he is not alone on that perch. Imran Khan’s assets also went from Rs33.3m in tax year 2014 to Rs1.31bn the next year, accounted for largely by a spike in the declared values of his twin residences at Bani Gala and Zaman Park, which he has valued at Rs750m and Rs220m respectively this year.
Meanwhile, his taxes paid went from Rs194,000 in tax year 2013 to Rs218,000 in 2014, revealing the absence of any clearly known sources of income. Yet Mr Khan can still enjoy the assets and lifestyle of a billionaire. The fact that this is even theoretically possible while staying within the law is a big problem.
And an even bigger problem is when you consider the incomes and assets that have not been revealed in such declarations, since the lifestyles of those on the list point to far larger sources of income, suggesting far bigger assets beneath the surface.
The list is a long one, and one is left wondering why we even bother going through this exercise year after year if both the tax authorities and the Election Commission are powerless to take any action.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2016