Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday hinted at an extension in the Asset Declaration Scheme in order to avoid inconvenience caused to citizens by the June 30 deadline.
The prime minister made the remark while interacting with members of the business community on a special PTV News telethon via video link..
Tycoon Aqeel Karim Dedhi asked the premier whether he would consider an extension in the deadline. "I think the number of people interested in the scheme could be much larger if there was some clarification on what the purpose of this is, whether people have to deposit cash by June 30, whether this deadline can be extended by a couple of months. For instance, if you could register first and make the 4 per cent penalty payment, but deposit cash in the bank later?"
Prime Minister Khan noted that although it appeared that leaving things until the last minute was a Pakistani trait, he was "considering it, because there's a lot of pressure, and lots of people are saying that there is too little time left to register".
He said he was "discussing with [Federal Board of Revenue Chairman] Shabbar Zaidi and [Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance] Abdul Hafeez Shaikh what process we can adopt that somehow makes it easier for people, so they can register and then after June 30, take advantage of [the scheme]. In the next 48 hours, we will bring a programme," he said.
'Will be personally involved in tax reform'
Dedhi also touched upon the issue of problems in the tax machinery, which the premier conceded were absolutely correct. "If I'm the head of the government, I can appoint my man as the FBR chairman and get away with tax theft," the prime minister said, explaining how corruption spreads through the tax machinery.
"If I do it, then my ministers will also do it, so will the opposition. When the ruling elite start evading taxes, it travels right to the lowest tier," he said.
"We have to reform FBR, and I have taken responsibility for this," he asserted. "Shabbar Zaidi has brought in an external expert. Once the budget is passed, I will sit with him for FBR reforms.
"It's become an issue of survival of the country now. If we don't have tax revenue, we don't have money to run the country," he explained.
He went on to say that he would also sit with experts to formulate a mechanism that promises refunds to exporters.
"They [previous governments] have gotten us stuck in a debt trap. We will get out of it through wealth creation. We need to give the business community an opportunity to make money. That will cause our economy to start moving, and our people will have more jobs, factories will start being set up, it will lead to wealth generation and increase tax revenue, and we will also be able to return our loans," the prime minister said.
"After the 60s, our government will be the first business-friendly government which promotes industry, and that will try fully to create opportunities for investment," he said.
The biggest component of the reforms, the prime minister said, was to introduce e-governance and introduce technology into the process in order to streamline it "so that taxpayers don't need to interact in-person, they can do everything online".
"I guarantee you that we will be introducing tax reforms."
"People used to be scared about filing taxes ─ and rightly so, because there was corruption in our institutions," he said.
"I will be overlooking [this effort] because I need to gather Rs5.5 billion from the country and I won't be able to do it unless people pay taxes. In this budget, we are trying our hardest to uplift industry, the business community and exports, while also trying to end poverty."
"The debts they had taken before, we have to spend half our tax revenue just on interest payments on that," he said. "You cannot run a country on the remaining money, that's why I'm taking these steps."
"I guarantee them today, that if they become a part of the Asset Declaration Scheme and come into the tax net and become a filer ─ being a non-filer is illegal ─ no government institution will bother them."
'Need to start changing mindset'
The prime minister said it was completely unacceptable that only a small percentage of taxpayers were carrying the burden of the entire population.
"It is impossible. We need to start changing our mindset," he said, with regards to paying taxes.
"Nothing is impossible. This is my life's philosophy. And if the nation is resolved, it will not be impossible," he said. Prime Minister Khan agreed that it is "a difficult time, but it was always going to be a difficult time."
"We will come out of it stronger with amendments in our system that will elevate us."
The government's tax amnesty scheme is aimed at whitening of undisclosed expenditures, sales and assets, including foreign assets, at nominal tax rates. It was approved by the cabinet after much deliberation and was announced earlier this month by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
The scheme had come into effect through a presidential ordinance, which offered a period of 45 days to people for declaration of their undeclared assets, expenditures, and sales along with payment of taxes until June 30 this year.
The scheme has five main pillars — scope, default surcharge, exclusions, tax rates and conditions. It can be availed by all companies, associations of persons and individuals only to whiten their assets, expenditures and sales not declared until June 30, 2018. There is no provision for whitening undeclared incomes, either domestic and foreign.
Under the scheme, assets within the country and abroad (except for real estate) can be whitened after paying a rate of four per cent. The whitened cash assets will have to be kept in Pakistani bank accounts.
For people wanting to keep their whitened money abroad, a rate of 6pc will be charged.
For the declaration of real estate, its value will be considered 1.5 times more than the FBR-assigned value to bring it at par with the market rate, Dr Shaikh had said.
The amnesty scheme also has the facility for citizens to whiten their benami accounts and properties before the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act, 2017, is enforced.
The scheme was announced two days after the government reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund about a $6bn bailout to implement an “ambitious structural reform agenda” over a period of 39 months.
In a video message on May 30, the prime minister had said that the scheme was a "chance for [the people] to declare their benami properties and bank accounts" so they can become a part of the tax net.
He revealed that only 1 per cent of the population pays taxes. "1pc Pakistanis are bearing the burden of 220 million people. This is impossible," he said. "No country can serve its people if the citizens don't pay taxes."