The one common factor to all budget discussions between the National Board of Revenue (NBR) and collective trade and business forums as well as individual companies is the demand for tax reduction. At least that is what one has to guess based on media reports. The latest is a three-year tax holiday appeal for women entrepreneurs. Few proposals are made (if they are it doesn't get reported) wherein specific proposals are submitted on how tax returns can be maximized. It is something of a no/no to come from a trade, businesses, and individuals. Post-budget in the clamor of protests over 'unfair' and 'punitive' taxes, the very few voices that welcome tax raising measures beyond the 'sin' industries such as tobacco and alcohol, are stifled. Unfortunately, while these sin taxes sound sexy, the math is difficult to work out. This scribe can't recall a year when revenue from the cigarette industry was ever lower than the year before, no matter what their profits were.
To that extent, the Chairman of National Board of Revenue (NBR) is on record as saying he will raise the duties on cheaper cigarettes. The premise? People give up due to the high cost. Reality little chance of that as well as huge increase in smuggled products. The health lobby will disagree and produce figures showing the contrary. They had shown similar figures when it came to advertising tobacco products. Now there's very little advertising but smiling prevalence continues albeit a smaller percentage on a bigger base. End result more sales and, frankly more revenue.
Farming loans for tobacco growing was annulled by Dr Atiur Rahman, the past Governor of Bangladesh Bank. It's about economics. One of the safest crops with guaranteed sales makes it attractive for the farmer, this too in spite of so much fanfare about alternate crops. As for alcohol, few industries can have thrived as well though it is illegal. Check the streets for empty cans and bottles on the 1st day of the next English New Year and other major celebrations. A police officer was roundly castigated for having suggested that beer should be made legal to keep the youngsters away from drugs. That's a debate without any real conclusion though without doubt he has a point. No one likes to say it, but excessive consumption of the so-called power drinks will result in intoxicating mainly because the base ingredient is malt. No matter the risk. Country liquor sales haven't gone down either.
The businesses are heading along a direction similar to the ordinary citizen. Whenever a public service falls short, most usually do, the retort 'don't we pay our taxes' rings loud. But let's understand too, that most of the taxable income earners don't submit returns let alone pay tax. In similar vein cannot be emphasised enough that we have one of the most unfriendly tax-payer processes to be found and the taxman just has too much discretionary power. There are many who allege that inspite of providing most, if not all of the supporting document there is still a demand for a 'consideration'. This is a corruption process so deeply embedded in the system that the Finance Minister faced reality in saying 'speed money isn't necessarily bad'. This has changed to a recent statement that 'in ten years there won't be a need for corruption'. If only NBR and the Finance Minister would accept that times have changed - more people are ready for quick-fixes than long-drawn affairs!
The issue that is really galling-and one that rudely permeates fairness is the recent tendency, in the interest of audit to re-open closed files and impose retrospective fines.
The person who signed off a tax return with acknowledgement doesn't get hauled up. Buildings are demolished for violating construction rules and approved plans but no supervisor responsible for post-building inspection ever gets fined or admonished. The utilities are never taken to task for providing service connections to unauthorised or plan-violating construction. And when a four-lane highway needs repair a year or so after completion, can the general public really be blamed for the apathy towards paying tax that seems to head towards a black-hole? Those that move to the courts for justice on taxation matters rarely get rulings in their favour. In one case, the hon'ble Supreme Court in its wise judgement ruled in favour of retrospective tax covering the period the issue was in the hearing process.
Government agencies and organisations that don't pay tax or utility charges never put the top or guilty individuals in the dock. Book adjustments take care of arrears due. But when it comes to private businesses, show cause notices are flashed across media and bank accounts frozen. Think of Teletalk going through that for not having paid arrear licence fees or fines. After all it's the government stupid! The words of Cat Stevens' lyrics waft through the air.
'Oh baby, baby it's a wild world.
It's hard to get by just upon a smiling girl'.
And while on the subject of the fairer sex, what has been the outcome of existing facilities for the ladies. Perhaps that's a rude question to ask!