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Affluent politicians

March 13, 2011


A REPORT published in this newspaper on Saturday seems to confirm the widely held belief that Pakistan is a nation with millions of poor people ruled by some extremely wealthy politicians. According to a statement of assets and liabilities supplied to the Election Commission, it has emerged that the PPP's Gul Mohammad Lot and Ammar Ahmad Khan are among the richest men sitting in the Senate of Pakistan, with property and investments adding up to billions of rupees. These gentlemen are not alone as the JUI-F's Azam Khan Swati and the BNP-A's Israrullah Zehri are also considerably well-off. These and other members of the upper house also lay claim to thousands of acres of land, expensive properties in Pakistan and abroad as well as luxury vehicles.

Yet it is clear that this is not the whole picture as there are several politicians who may have even more money but have not declared their assets. The posh cars in the National Assembly parking lot are one indication of how many of our parliamentarians can afford to live it up. So, credit must go to those parliamentarians who have declared their assets. However, the fact remains that the system lacks transparency. For instance, one wonders how a former civil servant has come to own property in London worth over a million pounds, as is the case with the current interior minister, who is also a senator. There is nothing wrong with having or making money, as long as it has been acquired in a legitimate manner and taxes are paid. But therein lies the problem.

One figure says that the total revenue that will be lost due to tax evasion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 adds up to over a trillion rupees. According to another estimate, fewer than two per cent of Pakistanis pay income tax. In fact, tax evasion is endemic in Pakistan, especially amongst the financial elite, many members of which sit in the nation's assemblies. The Federal Board of Revenue and the Election Commission need to properly investigate whether taxes have been paid on parliamentarians' income and assets. The National Assembly's Public Accounts Committee must also play a more active role in this regard. If bureaucrats can be questioned for alleged financial misdeeds, why not MNAs and senators? Of course, they are not the only ones who should be censured: landlords, generals and business tycoons who live beyond their means and don't pay taxes all need to answer to the taxman. Yet our elected representatives have the added responsibility of leading by example of which paying their due share of taxes is one aspect.