ISLAMABAD: In what appeared to be a show of strength, the government on Friday morning unveiled two online portals containing information of about 53 million people pertaining to their bank accounts, properties, travel history, etc.
In the evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a televised appeal to people to declare their tax-evaded wealth through the government’s assets declaration scheme (tax amnesty) before the June 30 deadline.
It was a day of muscle flexing and whether or not it works will become obvious only when the scheme ends.
State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar flanked by Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman Shabbar Zaidi announced the launch of the FBR portal during a morning press conference, showing the world all the data that is already available with the tax machinery.
Confusion at FBR as banks told to give information of accounts with more than Rs500,000; deadline for amnesty scheme draws close
Mr Azhar said data was spread over two portals available on FBR and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) websites. “Anyone can access their own data using CNIC to check their details at FBR portal”, he said.
The tax profiling system can be accessed at https://taxnet.nadra.gov.pk/itax/.
For FBR portal, taxpayers who are already registered with the FBR can use their Iris login account used for filing tax returns for getting their details. Those without an Iris login account will have to first register with the FBR for seeking details.
The FBR portal has the data of 53m people.
The FBR chairman said that anyone — on the basis of their CNIC and cell phone number — can request access to their information. If a person wants to access their information on FBR portal, they will have to send a message to 9966 to receive a code for registration on the system.
But contrary to this, the data which is available on the portal of Nadra can only be accessed with prior registration online for a Rs500 fee. For those who do not wish to pay the fee, Nadra allows walk-in requests at its registration centres where one can ask for the information after production of a CNIC.
Security of data promised
Addressing security concerns, the FBR chairman claimed the public has nothing to worry about. “We will ensure the security of the data. We are not sharing the data even with regional tax offices”, he said, adding that the data will be kept centralised at the FBR headquarters only.
The data will be used to make tax assessments, he said.
Mr Zaidi said that the data uploaded on the portal may not be used for issuance of notices to any person for the time being. However, he clarified that it can be used as reference in case of any assessment of the taxpayer.
The chairman further clarified that asset declaration scheme would not be extended as Pakistan was going to enter an IMF programme from July 1. He went on to say that the FBR would have the upper hand whether or not people avail the scheme.
Mr Zaidi said that Nadra had not been given access to the bank accounts of the people. He said information on both portals was also different. He also said that the portal did not have any information regarding income tax of the people.
In response to a question, the FBR chairman said that Nadra could make estimation about the tax potential. However, he said the assessment of tax remained exclusively the power of the FBR.
Data on the portal has been acquired from various sources. In this regard, a meeting was held with the chief financial officers of various banks on May 30 to get details of account holders.
In the first phase, the banks provided the data of withholding taxes from Jan 1, 2018 onwards with the CNICs of such account holders to the FBR. This data gathering was completed by June 17.
The banks have already written letters to those account holders who are not declared with the FBR and have balances of more than Rs500,000 as of April 30, guiding them to avail the amnesty scheme if the accounts are not declared by the customers.
In the second phase, the FBR has reached an understanding with the Pakistan Banking Council (PBC) to resolve the long-standing issue over Section 165A (access to banking information) of the Income Tax Ordinance. The PBC got a stay order against this section. However, the data will be received from July onwards.
Under this section, banks are bound to provide a list of persons containing particulars of cash withdrawals exceeding Rs50,000 in a day and tax deductions thereon for filers and non-filers, aggregating to Rs1m or more during each preceding calendar month.
Meanwhile, massive confusion prevailed at the FBR over the issuance of letters to banks asking for details of all those accounts that had more than Rs500,000 deposited in them.
Letters issued by field formations to numerous bank branches circulated on social media all day on Wednesday. In his Friday’s press conference, the FBR chairman denied that he had given any instructions for the issuance of these letters.
But a letter dated June 3 issued by the office of the Member, Inland Revenue, a copy of which is available with Dawn, suggests otherwise.
“The Prime Minister of Pakistan” that letter begins, “has expressed his concern over narrow taxation base…. and has desired that concerted efforts be put in to increase taxation base.” The letter directs field formations to “gather the data of bank account holders above the threshold of Rs500,000 be examined with the assistance of SBP”.
In addition, the data of all industrial and commercial power connections from power distribution companies; information of the people living in houses of two kanals or more from housing authorities; persons who own luxury vehicles of 2400cc and above and information about frequent foreign travellers is also to be examined.
The letter gave the deadline of June 11 and stated that this information was sought on the directive of the prime minister who will review the performance of the FBR in the context of broadening and widening of tax base on a monthly basis.
“We have uploaded all this information on the FBR portal to let people know about their actual assets,” a senior tax officer said.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2019