Happy taxpayers

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Idrees Khawaja

ACOU­PLE of months back, I heard the chair­man of the Fed­eral Board of Rev­enue say at a pre-bud­get seminar that the FBR was con­fronted with the chal­lenge of ' why should I pay taxes'. The im­pli­ca­tion was that taxpayers like to see 'value for their money'. The fail­ure to see taxes be­ing put to good use en­cour­ages non-pay­ment. The so­lu­tion is ob­vi­ous: put tax money to good use and tell the taxpayers how their money is be­ing spent.

Sup­pose we scrib­bled some­thing like this in­side metro buses: 'This metro bus ser­vice has been es­tab­lished with taxes paid by you. Pay your taxes to en­joy more and bet­ter public ser­vices.' Sim­i­lar no­tices may pop up in­side public hos­pi­tals and schools, near mo­tor­ways, fly­overs and bridges in ev­ery nook and cor­ner of the coun­try. A look at the no­tices tells peo­ple that at least a part of their tax money is be­ing put to good use. Imag­ine the tam­per­ing with the 'not pay­ing taxes' at­ti­tude.

Taxpayers' money is not al­ways put to good use. At times it ends up in Swiss ac­counts and in Dubai malls or is spent on the lav­ish lifestyles of public of­fi­cials who may not al­ways fully do what they are paid for - from the taxpayers' money. How do we com­bat this? Per­haps like this:

Imag­ine a time when taxes are vis­i­bly put to good use.

The prime min­is­ter de­cides to per­form um­rah dur­ing the last days of Ra­mazan. The news spreads and friends and rel­a­tives queue up to be taken along. As the prime min­is­ter is about to board his spe­cial plane, another plane is parked along­side on the tar­mac; it is meant to carry his en­tourage of 100-plus.

While climb­ing up the steps of his spe­cial plane, the prime min­is­ter no­tices the em­bossed words just over the en­trance to the air­craft: 'trip paid by Pak­ista­nis'. He post­pones the trip and the next day boards a reg­u­lar PIA flight to Jeddah. Only his im­me­di­ate fam­ily ac­com­pa­nies him.

Cur­rently, the pres­i­dent's kitchen is paid for by taxpayers. The pres­i­dent ar­rives in the din­ing room for din­ner with his fam­ily. The ta­ble is full of all sorts of dishes.

The fam­ily, upon notic­ing 'paid by Pak­ista­nis' em­bossed on the corners of white Cor­relle dishes moves back to the lounge with­out hav­ing din­ner and or­ders some­thing on their own from a lo­cal eatery that de­liv­ers. Mean­while, the pres­i­dent tells his staff that from the next day on, he would be pay­ing for kitchen ex­penses him­self.

How about scrib­bling on the walls of all public ser­vants' of­fices, 'salary paid by Pak­ista­nis'? Here is a glimpse of the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits. A vil­lager goes to the po­lice sta­tion in the dead of night to tell the SHO that his buf­falo has been stolen. The SHO gets an­gry with the vil­lager for dis­turb­ing his sleep. The two get into a heated ar­gu­ment in the SHO's of­fice. The SHO stands up to tell the vil­lager in the lo­cal col­lo­quial ' I have not been hired by your fa­ther'.

At this mo­ment, he catches a glimpse of 'salary paid by Pak­ista­nis' scrib­bled on the wall in front. The SHO sits down, has a glass of wa­ter, reg­is­ters the FIR and sends a raid­ing party to re­cover the poor man's buf­falo.

Twenty-five years hence, the NAB or­di­nance has been amended to take out the plea-bar­gain clause and two for­mer prime min­is­ters have been sen­tenced for cor­rup­tion. The courts now de­cide mur­der and prop­erty cases within months rather than decades; the younger gen­er­a­tion is not fa­mil­iar with the word 'bhatta'; and the un­em­ployed are paid a de­cent stipend from the tax rev­enues raised.

By then, PTV News, run on taxpayers' money, has be­come the most re­li­able source of in­de­pen­dent and timely news. Its talk shows earn the best rat­ings be­cause of their in­for­ma­tive con­tent and un­bi­ased han­dling by anchors. Gov­ern­ment- owned hous­ing in ur­ban cen­tres, in­clud­ing the ones for the armed forces, run at the taxpayers' ex­pense, have been sold off. All gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees are paid enough to af­ford de­cent hous­ing. Pat­waris, paid out of taxpayers' money, no longer pro­vide men for the ral­lies of the party in power.

The taxpayers' money is no longer spent on the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­monies of met­ros, dams and con­fer­ences. The min­is­ters do not grace con­vo­ca­tions. Ad­ver­tise­ments, at taxpayers' ex­pense, glo­ri­fy­ing the poli­cies of the party in power are not fea­tured. Healthcare is com­pletely in the public sec­tor, there are no pri­vate schools and there are no out-of-school chil­dren - all study till grade 12 at taxpayers' ex­pense in public schools. The prime min­is­ter's chauf­feur drives the prime min­is­ter's son and his own in a mod­est car to a sin­gle school, and the two study in the same class. The tax-to-GDP ra­tio has in­creased phe­nom­e­nally - to reach 40pc.

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