KARACHI: Federal Minister for Law and Justice Dr Farogh Naseem has said that because a lot of economic activity is generated in the agriculture sector, the federal government should collect agriculture tax.
Speaking as chief guest at the annual dinner of Pakistan Tax Bar Association (PTBA) on Saturday night, the minister said that under Article 77 of the constitution tax had to be imposed as per the law, but after adoption of the 18th Constitution Amendment it had become a provincial subject.
However, Dr Naseem was quick to add that the law should be fair. When the size of the agro-based economy was so large and “constituted up to 80 per cent of [the country’s economic activity] what was wrong if tax on agriculture is collected by the federal government?”
Referring to a recent controversy over Article 149, the law minister said it was unfortunate that whenever an article of the Constitution was discussed a lot of hue and cry was raised.
He said the immediate reaction to his statement about the article was “this was being done to divide the province of Sindh. But the fact is that they want to keep on looting and plundering the country’s wealth”.
He said that tax was being collected only from “20-25 per cent of the economy and the question was: what about the 70-80 per cent of the activity generated in rural Pakistan?”.
He spoke at length about the hurdles created in the appointment of a judicial member of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal. The Federal Public Service Commission organised a test in 2013-14 but the appointment was made earlier this year.
He said the issue had been taken up with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khan Khosa would also be approached for his guidance in developing a system for ensuring early appointments.
The minister said the vacancies of accountants and technical members of the tax tribunal could be filled by qualified tax practitioners, chartered accountants and others.
Dr Naseem stressed upon the need to broaden the tax base and added that a limited number of people could not be expected to shoulder for eternity the great burden of generating revenues.
He said the role of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had changed after Syed Shabbar Zaidi took over its control and the tax collecting agency had been transformed into a facilitator.
Answering the questions raised by the PTBA president, Abdul Qadir Memon, the law minister agreed that sufficient time should be given for the filing of tax returns and that the FBR should take all stakeholders on board before taking any major decision.
Dr Naseem expressed the hope that the country would soon overcome its problems.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2019