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‘Why corruption matters’

January 04, 2013

THIS is apropos of article ‘Why corruption matters’ (Dec 18) by Zahid Hussain. The writer has raised a number of issues, mainly the report of the NAB chairman on corruption 2012, non-filing of income tax returns by parliamentarians, absence of tax culture and the low tax-GDP ratio, lack of independent and credible accountability mechanism.

It has been rightly pointed out that corruption is at the nexus of economic challenge and distorts the government’s image internationally. There is admittedly no effect at the national level, as we have become accustomed to it.

There are certain issues which incite comment as a mark of a responsible and rational citizen, which I believe is the first step towards developing a responsive populace. The comments of the NAB chairman is a sort of reminder to what is happening in the country.

We all know the low level of governance we have touched. But the question is the basis of computing the quantum of corruption.

The NAB chairman has taken for granted the lack of agriculture tax, tax exemptions, loadshedding, wealth tax, etc, as corruption, but these may be the opportunity lost, and not corruption.

He proceeded further on to claim that Punjab has major share of corruption, i.e. 65 per cent.

I am no fan of Sharif brothers, but would like to point out that in the NAB annual report 2011, available on NAB’s official website, the regional distribution of different indicators for Punjab were: complaints 29 per cent, inquiries conducted 22 per cent, investigations 30 per cent.

The total number of accused and amount recovered was 93 persons and Rs901.4 million, which included 45 persons from Punjab (48 per cent) and recovery of Rs271million (30 per cent).

It is not understandable how the corruption percentage for Punjab jumbled to 65 per cent despite the vigilant eye of NAB. Does it indicate the efficiency level of NAB itself?

The NAB chairman should have commented on this aspect. Merely quoting figures from the international agency is not enough: one has to apply one’s own mind as well. For an independent and credible mechanism of accountability such things do matter.

Tax evasion by parliamentarians retards the growth of a healthy tax culture. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, taxation is a non-serious issue. What good is expected in a country where the federal tax ombudsman is a retired police officer having a PhD in criminology.

It is not understandable as to why the apex court and media have not taken note of this anomaly.

Before the partition of the subcontinent, voting and electoral rights remained linked with the quantum of tax paid. I think, if we are indeed serious about developing a tax culture, we should take the system of taxation seriously. We may adopt the seriousness and sincerity attached to the revenue department despite the element of corruption, which comes with the package and can be tackled.