Among 21,428 candidates who have submitted nomination papers for the General Elections 2018, almost 60% are either non-filers, tax defaulters or they are out of tax as they don’t have a National Taxation Number (NTN), according to a Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officer dealing with the candidates’ records.
The situation was not so different during 2013 General Elections as well. 2013’s figures were also alarming with 50% candidates having no NTN while only 11% of those who had an NTN were found to be filers. Despite the Lahore High Court’s directions to the FBR to make the tax defaulters list public, it was not done during the last general elections.
As per the analysis performed by Basit Ali, a data journalist, about 28,302 candidates had submitted the nomination papers in the previous general elections out of which 20,113 contested the elections. FBR shared their tax details with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which revealed that the overall income of the candidates amounted to Rs 12.71 billion and the tax paid against it was Rs 1.21 billion. It may be worth noting that a number of those candidates who submitted taxes were billionaires at the time.
The real worth of those candidates was never disclosed since there was no tax audit of the lawmakers. An effort to introduce a tax audit was made by former PTI MNA, Asad Umar however, it was deliberately delayed and ultimately discarded by a 10-member Parliament committee in 2014. Interestingly, 5 out of these 10 members had filed less than Rs 100,000 in taxes, which speaks volumes about their willingness to introduce a new audit. In 2017, all the political parties had jointly passed the resolution to terminate clauses asking for tax details in the nomination papers.
Originally the nomination papers were designed to ask 3-year tax details along with 18 other declarations. However, the Election Act 2017, made sure that there were no such declarations to be made at the time of elections by deleting all such clauses. Upon ECP’s objections, the Parliamentarians told the ECP that Parliament was the supreme lawmaker, twisting the laws in their favor.
However, the Supreme Court’s intervention made sure that everything went south for the Parliamentarians when it directed the ECP to take separate oath from the candidates asking them to declare all those items which were earlier deleted from the nomination papers.
The following percentage was observed for the candidates filing their tax returns in 2012:
- National Assembly – 17%
- Sindh – 11%
- KPK Assembly – 6%
- Balochistan Assembly – 6%
- Punjab Assembly – 15%
An almost similar percentage was recorded for NTN holders. 572 candidates filed zero income tax despite having income more than Rs 1 million.
In 2011, 70% of the National Assembly members were non-filers while 1 out of 5 did not have an NTN, an investigation revealed. A follow-up report clarified the numbers, saying that half of the NA members did not file their returns and validated the 1 to 5 ratio of NTN holders.
The then Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has directed FBR to register every lawmaker for tax payment while also introducing separate tax directories for citizens and lawmakers; the reports were published in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but the process did not continue after that. With this, Pakistan became only the 4th country to publish tax numbers of lawmakers publicly following the footsteps of Norway, Sweden and Finland.