A ‘loot’ cause

The News

LAHORE: When the political elite is not in power they vehemently admit and berate the misuse of public money and vow to put the things right but fail to deliver when they are at the helm of affairs.
Way back in 2009 Shaukat Tarin as Finance Minister under Yousuf Raza Gilani had said corruption in government departments ranged from Rs400-500 billion per year. Ishaq Dar, the Finance Minister in the PML-N government, claimed Pakistanis have stashed $200 billion of looted money in foreign countries. Prime Minister Imran Khan talks about much higher loot stashed both in and outside Pakistan. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has been claiming the same for two decades on the basis of available data of millions of tax evaders in Pakistan.
If all these claims are true or even half true then why no corrective measures have been taken to stop the loot and also to claim back the stashed money from the looters? The corruption in the country has increased instead of reducing.
The filthy rich parade their wealth openly within and outside Pakistan without being confronted by the authorities. Even the tax regulators have failed to take meaningful action on the documentary evidence it possesses on tax evasion.
The quantum of loot certainly has multiplied in the past with the passage of time in line with decline in governance and the loss of state grip on many affairs. After years of association with different governments the current Finance Minister is well aware of the reforms needed to move towards a sustainable economic path.
An analysis of the situation would reveal that it is always the political government of the time that caves in to pressures of vested interests. Why does every government fail to give a free hand to the FBR? The tax collectors have the right to conduct raids on business premises but they are invariably stopped by the government in power or protests by the traders and industrialists. You cannot hope for tax compliance from a toothless regulator. The tax collectors must enjoy powers to bring tax evaders into the tax net. The law allows the tax regulator to arrest tax defaulters but the powers are subjected to many conditions and permissions from higher ups.
The result is that not a single tax evader has been arrested under this law. As far as tax evasion is concerned even men on streets could point out to several huge plazas built from illegal wealth.
The tax collectors also have a good idea as to who the tax evaders are but absence of action means the absence at the highest level. Instead selected actions are taken against political opponents on government pressure. Here the bureaucracy takes its revenge by not collecting the evidence to indict the evaders in court of law.
This is because the action is taken on the instruction of the ruling party. The bureaucrats are not allowed to take action against those evaders that side with the government of the day. We might see some progress in this regard if the bureaucrats are given free hand to take action against all tax evaders irrespective of political affiliation
Political interference is in all spheres of life in Pakistan. Criminals caught-red handed are let off by the police on intervention of ruling party lawmakers. The custom vigilance looks the other way and lets confirmed smuggled goods enter markets on recommendation of some influential. These actions are common in the corrupt culture that has developed in Pakistan over years.
Seeing the futility of apprehending criminals (who have to be freed on political interference), the law enforcers negotiate the deals with criminals and smugglers to share something in the loot.
Corruption would continue to flourish until the practice of letting off criminals on political considerations continues. The tax evasion would always be in the driving seat if the tax officials are forbidden to raid business premises that the law allows them.
The issue of scarce resources in Pakistan has been compounded by the unwarranted wastages including electricity transmission losses, gas loss due to inefficient appliances, water losses in the absence of conservation methods and post-harvest losses in agriculture all because of corrupt culture.
The most deplorable fact is that its poor social development does not seem to be a matter of concern for those in authority. The credible reports on its low performance in governance, human development, infant mortality, corruption and lawlessness do not trigger any serious debate in the power circles. The media reports are conveniently ignored as the criminals and their official partners know that the impact would fade away in a few days when another scandal surfaces.

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