Panama Papers: notices galore


WEB DESK: Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has, after a five-month delay, issued notices to the 600 or so Pakistanis whose names were leaked in the Panama Papers, including the Prime Minister’s three children namely Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz.

An FBR official stated that “the FBR has started the process of taking version/verification of all Pakistani nationals/individuals/companies whose names appeared in the papers released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists regarding the ownership of offshore enterprises.”

Another official stated that the notice issued under Section 176 of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 is just a hearing though the commissioner investigating the matter has the same powers as are vested in a court under the Code of Civil Procedure.

One would have hoped that given the impeccable source of the Panama Papers the FBR had moved more quickly to issue the notices because in this particular instance, the proverb better late than never does not give a sense of comfort; additionally, as per critics, the delay smacks of a partisan approach.

Be that as it may, the FBR Chairman, during an interactive session with businesspeople in Karachi, acknowledged that the FBR has issued hundreds of notices to people who had been named in the Panama Papers and giving them a 15-day deadline for a response but disturbingly added that in case there is no response the FBR can only fine Rs 25,000 which is, without doubt, petty cash for those with offshore accounts.

The Chairman FBR, however, did not refer to the Income Tax Ordinance Act 2001 which allows the Board to look at the past five years for filers and ten years for non-filers while at least in the case of the Prime Minister’s three children the offshore accounts were opened more than 20 years ago. The rationale for this particular clause in the Income Tax Ordinance Act 2001 was based on the business community’s lament at the time that they simply could not maintain records forever.

That may be true but given the extent of the foreign exchange outflows from this country over a long period of time and given the billions of dollars outflow in the past three years alone, as revealed by the government to a parliamentary committee, there is an obvious need for parliament to enact laws that would enable the FBR to explore those foreign accounts held by Pakistani passport holders that predate decades.

The Chairman FBR while referring to Imran Khan’s claim that the issue raised by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf during the protest rally on Saturday had prompted action by the FBR referred to him in derogatory terms twice: first, by stating that no one but an idiot would maintain that notices can be issued in 15 minutes and second, by referring to him as “container-fame politician” who should fear God for telling lies about him (the Chairman).

It is extremely unfortunate that opposition members almost routinely hurl accusations against heads of state institutions for a partisan approach, a practice that must stop; but derogatory comments by senior bureaucrats against political leaders must also stop as they simply strengthen the perception of their partisan approach. Clearly, there is a need for improved defamation laws in this country which must be enforced by speedy justice and prohibitive penalties.

Source: Business Recorder