Tax Time in Pakistan: Owning our Reality

Posted on September 20, 2010
Filed Under >Faris Islam, Economy & Development, Society
19 Comments
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Faris Islam

As we ready ourselves to essentially pay our national bills and file taxes on September 30th, this piece by Mohsin Hamid from earlier this year resonated with me – though it talks about raising taxes, just the simple act of actually paying taxes would go a surprisingly long way in alleviating so many of the nation’s problems.

That our nation is going through tough times barely needs repeating – even before the floods, millions were homeless, lacked food and water security and had little hopes of breaking out of the vicious cycle of poverty and hopelessness they, as well as generations before them were all born into.

Mohsin Hamid asks the question we should all ask ourselves in the face of this bone-crushing poverty and desperation, “Why isn’t Pakistan delivering what we hope for? Because of dictatorships, or India, or the Americans? Well, maybe. But these days a large part of the reason is this: we citizens aren’t paying enough for Pakistan to flourish.”

Unfortunately we’re all too familiar with the situations he describes, as Mohsin Hamid mentions:

“On my travels around our country I haven’t just seen malnourished children and exhausted farmers and hardworking 40-year-old women who look like they’re 80. I’ve also seen huge ancestral landholdings and giant textile factories and Mobilink offices with lines of customers stretching out the door. I’ve seen shopkeepers turn up to buy Honda Civics with cash. I’ve seen armies of private security guards, fleets of private electricity generators. I’ve seen more handwritten non-official receipts than I can possibly count.

Many of our rich have tens of millions of dollars in assets. And our middle class numbers tens of millions of people. The resources of our country are enormous. We’ve just made a collective decision not to use them.”

With millions more of our people now on the brink and our state and society growing increasingly mired in conflict, now is the time to rethink this decision.

We all want schools that actually educate, water that can actually be drunk and a judicial system that actually provides justice, yet in a multitude of small decisions every day we undermine our progress on extending the promise of Pakistan to all Pakistanis.

How? To quote Hamid once again:

“There’s no doubt that much of officialdom is corrupt. But so are we, the citizens. Every time we accept a fake receipt, or fail to declare a bit of income, we are stealing from our country in precisely the same way our politicians and bureaucrats are.”

Beyond filing our online forms with the FBR, we need to own up to our larger reality: there are many of us who benefit – directly or not – from this broken system. We know the inequalities and injustices perpetuated by this cycle of corruption and cheating, but all too often encourage, accept or patronize this system for our own benefit, at the expense of millions. Doing something as seemingly trivial as bribing a traffic cop (or KESC employee, or customs officer or anyone else working for the government) may avoid us some inconvenience or effort, but also retards the institutions and offices we need so desperately for our state to function.

We need to look deep within ourselves – as individuals and as a society – and decide: is it worth it?

19 responses to “Tax Time in Pakistan: Owning our Reality”

  1. Nihari says:

    Only fools pay taxes in Pakistan. (which automatically also means salaried class)

  2. Naan Haleem says:

    Expenses on the National Assembly sessions (apart from Senate) cost the TAX-PAYERS of Pakistan Rs. 56,000 per minute… per minute. And today both the houses are in session taking away millions from the TAX-PAYERS for what? hate speeches, accusations, verbal fights and what not. what does TAX-PAYER gets???? Does he even get facilities Rs. 560 against 56,000 paid? only salaried class is butchered for taxes both direct and indirect. Talk about Industrialists, Land-lords, Stock-brokers, Deal mongers, Lawyers, Media-groups, Ulema and Madressas, Army officers,….. all these are supposed to pay tax but Do they? Do they?
    Once get them through then come to smugglers, Bhatta Mafia (can anyone translate it???), encroacher, illegal occupants, money launderers, beggars (yeah!!). Long and tiring list people…..
    By the way how many of the readers of this post know how to calculate their tax? :P

  3. Umar Shah says:

    IMHO cheating on taxes whether its income, sales or any other for of taxation is an ideology for Pakistanis just like hypocrisy, fake nationalism and selective religion. Go to a Pakistani restaurant in the US and you’ll get no receipt and they’ll only accept cash. No credit cards. No transaction trail. Infact when you pay cash for food or groceries in some cases they hit the secret button under the cash machine to open the cash drawer. That’s classic Pakistan. If there is a law or a straight path, we won’t be found following it. So we don’t have to blame just the Pakistanis living in the land of the pure…

  4. Baig says:

    Good post. And this is much more than just taxes. This is about whether we look at this country as our country in our economic decisions.

  5. Faraz says:

    While I agree that there is not excuse for not paying your taxes, but when it comes to bribing, more often than not, the bureaucracy itself leaves citizens with no other choice. Go to a government official to get some legitimate work done, and you are faced with an extremely rude and arrogant official who considers himself as God’s chosen one. He\she gives a cursory look at your documents, and usually comes up with an arbitrary document that is missing, and makes it as an excuse to reject your application. This process is repeated several times, each time they come up with a different document that is found to be missing. Most give up at this stage, and either resort to using their connections or in the absence of that to bribery.

    To avoid bribing an official and to save yourself from multiple visits, either you or your father has to be a government officer or you must have friends\relatives in high places.

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