ISLAMABAD: With the advent of a global crackdown on tax evasion, the government is working on an amnesty package that will allow individuals who have parked their assets offshore and onshore to legitimise their holdings.

This latest amnesty scheme is being considered in order to give those Pakistanis an easy way to repatriate part of their offshore funds before a new global anti-tax evasion scheme becomes operational under a multilateral tax convention or bilateral arrangements on the avoidance of double taxation.

The over 104-members of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will automatically begin to exchange records in 2017, as part of a coordinated global crackdown on tax evasion to expose non-compliant taxpayers.


Those with onshore or offshore holdings, including people named in Panama Papers, may be allowed to whiten their assets


A senior tax official told Dawn that Pakistan will receive information regarding Pakistanis holding funds abroad and will begin to exchange similar information with other countries whose citizens hold bank accounts in Pakistan from July 2018. This process begins later for Pakistan as it was one of the last countries to join the OECD.

Details of non-residents will span the period between July 2017 and June 2018. On a reciprocal basis, Pakistan will also receive information regarding Pakistani holdings in 105 countries from the same financial year.

In view of this and other bilateral arrangements, the government is working on a lenient amnesty scheme that will allow those with large holdings abroad to declare and repatriate their wealth while facing minimum penalties.

At the 40th Export Awards ceremony of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had hinted at across-the-board amnesty for those with undeclared assets, either lying onshore or offshore. At the ceremony held on Dec 15 2016, the PM had even invited suggestions for the same.

Under the two proposed amnesty schemes, those who will be asked to declare their wealth are divided into three different slabs.

A draft worked out by the FBR is a six-month scheme, broken up into three two-month periods. In the first two months, those who declare movable and immovable assets will have to pay 5pc of the value of their assets; the proposed tax rate will be 7.5pc over the next two months, while in the last two months, the tax rate will be 10pc.

In contrast, another scheme submitted to the finance minister proposes an amnesty period of nine months.

This proposal gives different tax rates depending on whether the individual availing the scheme chooses to repatriate their assets or not, even though the FBR-proposed scheme makes no such distinction.

Under this draft scheme, a tax rate of 5pc will be charged in the first three months if the assets are repatriated to Pakistan, while 10pc will be charged in case of non-repatriation.

Over the next three months, repatriated assets can be legitimised at a rate of 7pc, while non-repatriated assets will be charged at 10pc.

In the last three months of this scheme, the tax rate will be 10pc in case of repatriation and 20pc in cases of non-repatriation of foreign assets.

Precedent

An income declaration scheme was launched in India on June 1, 2016. Under the scheme, those who had evaded taxes were given the opportunity to avoid punishment by paying tax, penalty, and cess that came to a total of 45pc of the undisclosed income.

Until October 2016, 64,275 Indians had declared around $97.5bn in assets, on which revenue worth $44.8bn was expected to be generated.

The Indonesian government also offered a similar scheme. Under the first phase of the scheme, 366,757 people declared $277bn in assets until September 2016 and the scheme amassed $7.45bn in tax revenue in its first phase.

Tax expert Naseem Ahmad told Dawn that the percentage proposed in Pakistani schemes was too low. The tax should be set at a minimum of 25pc of the money, which had been transferred through illegal means and without paying taxes to the government.

He was of the opinion that the government should first try to bring this money back to Pakistan for industrial investment and give incentives to those who agree to repatriate their capital.

However, Ashfaq Tola, chartered accountant and a former member of the Tax Reforms Commission, said that if the government was considering massive concessions for the Chinese under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, why couldn’t the same be offered to Pakistanis.

He said the incentives on offshore and onshore holdings were more than the current market value of the GDP, which came to a total of $285 billion, while the grey economy stood at around $300 billion. “If half of this came to Pakistan through this scheme, it will add to the economic growth of the country”, he said.

But tax experts say it is high time the government comes up with a safety net for the tax system. They propose that the concept of year of discovery in income tax should be revived and the statutory period of five years for probing past cases be abolished.

A tax official said that those who were found to possess offshore holdings in the Panama Papers leak could also avail this scheme to whiten their money. “It will be up to the government whether it bars them from availing the proposed scheme or not,” the tax official explained.

The Tax Reforms Commission had also proposed a 15pc tax with no penalty to allow the whitening of undeclared foreign assets. The TRC proposed the introduction of two laws for the declaration of foreign assets and control of foreign exchange.

At present, there is no law which binds a person to declare their foreign assets.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2017

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