The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has refused the Federal Bureau of Revenue’s (FBR) demand to block the mobile phone SIMs of over half a million individuals who did not file tax returns in 2023, it emerged on Saturday.

Earlier this week, the FBR released a comprehensive list of 506,671 non-filers, adding that their mobile phone SIMs would be promptly blocked. The PTA and other telecom providers were ordered to comply with the decision.

The decision was issued in Income Tax General Order (ITGO) no 01 of 2024, which said that the mobile SIMs for these individuals would stay blocked until restored by the FBR or the Commissioner Inland Revenue.

In a declaration issued on Friday regarding enforcement of the ITGO, the PTA said its execution did not fall within its jurisdiction and thus the order would have “no legal binding effect” since it was inconsistent with the applicable legal framework.

The PTA said that before the order’s execution, “factual issues with regard to the usage of SIMs against CNICs (Computerised National Identity Card) also need to be verified on the premise that any person may obtain eight SIMs (three data and five voice) therefore, before issuing and implementing ITGO, procedural steps with regard to notices would require to be issued by the tax collection authority as provided in section 144-B of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001”.

The authority said the order’s execution would have an “adverse impact on prevailing social norms”.

It said that most male users registered SIMs on their names instead of females and juveniles and thus only 27 per cent of of SIMs were registered on CNICs of females .

The PTA said that potential female and children subscribers would be deprived of access to communication with “specific reference to their educational activities” while the confidence of foreign investors in the telecom sector might also be adversely impacted.

Moreover, it added that blocking SIMs could affect financial transactions such as online payments, remittances, online banking and e-health activities, thus causing “multiple issues”.

The PTA recommended that instead of blocking SIMs at the first instance, the FBR needed to pursue “other alternative modes for ensuring better compliance for filing of income tax returns” such as awareness campaigns.

Furthermore, the authority said the issue needed to be reviewed in a “holistic manner after consultation with all stakeholders”, including the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom.

A separate statement from the PTA issued today said it communicated to the FBR that the ITGO needed a review before its execution, adding that the authority had already also initiated consultation with stakeholders on the subject issue.

Opinion

Editorial

Population calamity
Updated 22 Jul, 2024

Population calamity

Pakistan can also control its growth rate by following the examples of its peers and implementing functional family planning programmes and campaigns.
Blow to occupation
22 Jul, 2024

Blow to occupation

THE International Court of Justice has delivered a legal blow to the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian...
Seeking Priya Kumari
22 Jul, 2024

Seeking Priya Kumari

PRIYA Kumari — the minor girl who vanished on Ashura in 2021 while serving water at a sabeel in Sukkur district ...
Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.