The World Bank on Saturday retracted its recommendation regarding taxing monthly salaries below Rs50,000, as fresh data reveals that the highly marginalised salaried class again paid more taxes than the combined taxes paid by the richest exporters and the real-estate sector in the past three months.
Salaried individuals paid Rs70.6 billion in income tax during the July-September period of the current fiscal year, a sum larger than the combined contribution by the richest exporters and the influential and unregulated real estate sector, according to government statistics.
There is no match between the wealth and income of exporters and real-estate sector players in comparison to the marginalised salaried persons. The combined taxes paid by exporters and real-estate players were just Rs65 billion in three months, nearly Rs6 billion less than what was paid by salaried persons, many of whom come to the office on public transport or motorcycles.
WB retracts recommendation
The World Bank on Saturday clarified its position on the highly controversial recommendation of imposing taxes on incomes below Rs50,000 per month. The Washington-based lender stated that its recommendation was based on 2019 data, which needs to be updated in light of recent inflation and labour market conditions.
“The World Bank certainly does not recommend any reduction in the current nominal threshold, and how it was framed above may have indeed been misleading,” said a spokeswoman of the WB.
“Previous analysis included in the Public Expenditure Review using 2019 data suggested that a reformed income tax structure could include a lower exemption threshold for salaried individuals, but this analysis would need to be updated to take account of recent inflation and labour market changes to make sure low incomes are not affected,” according to the WB.
While accepting its mistake, the WB added that “the recommendation in the Pakistan Development Update should have been clearer on the need for new analysis needed on more recent data to inform this reform.”
The Express Tribune had reported this week that the WB recommended lowering the current income tax exemption threshold of Rs50,000 per month income.
The lender stated that the World Bank does not recommend any particular new level for income tax exemption and instead suggested conducting a fresh survey to gauge the level.
“Appropriate changes to tax thresholds should be assessed based on new survey data and designed to protect low incomes,” according to the WB.
The WB said it recommended comprehensive tax reforms that would make the overall system much more progressive than it is today, increasing the tax burden on the most well-off people. Reforms should include reducing subsidy expenditures, closing regressive tax exemptions, and increasing taxation of high-income earners, including via improved taxation of agriculture, property, and retail sectors, said the lender.
Most importantly, this reform should increase the progressivity of the system. Increased taxation should fall on the higher incomes, and reducing the nominal threshold today would not achieve that, according to the WB.
In the budget, the last Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government further increased the tax burden for the salaried class, which also led to an additional burden of Rs17.7 billion in taxes on salaried people in just three months, revealed statistics of the government.
The salaried class paid 33% more income tax during the July-September period of the current fiscal year compared to the taxes paid in the same period of the last fiscal year.
Data compiled by the Federal Board of Revenue showed that during the July-September period, salaried persons paid Rs70.6 billion in taxes. The salaried people remained the fourth-largest contributors to withholding taxes after contractors, bank depositors, and importers.
In June’s budget, the government again increased taxes on salaried people earning more than Rs200,000 a month.
During the first quarter of this fiscal year, the FBR collected 580 billion on account of withholding taxes. The 12.2% of the total withholding taxes was paid just by the salaried class, which is not even allowed to adjust expenditures against their gross salary, showed the data.
Exporters who earned $7 billion or Rs2 trillion in the first quarter of this fiscal year paid a meagre sum of Rs21 billion in taxes. Their contribution in taxes was 21% higher than the preceding year, but it was lower than the increase in their income in rupee terms.
Exporters pay only 1% of their gross receipts in income tax. The income tax contribution of the exporters dropped from 4% to just 3.6% of the total withholding taxes in the current fiscal year.
The real-estate sector players paid Rs44 billion in taxes on sale and purchase of plots, which was up by Rs14.5 billion or nearly half after the government slightly increased their tax burden in the budget. Yet, the real estate sector’s contribution was not even near to what the salaried people paid in three months.
On the sale of plots, Rs20.6 billion was paid in taxes, up by Rs7.8 billion or 61%. On the purchase of plots, the tax contribution remained at Rs23.3 billion, higher by Rs6.8 billion or 41%.
The former finance minister had also revived his favourite tax collection tool in this year’s budget, the 0.6% withholding tax on cash withdrawal. The FBR collected Rs7.6 billion in taxes under this head in just three months.
The maximum amount of income tax collected was from contractors, saving account holders, importers, and salaried persons, electricity bills of the non-filers, telephone & mobile phones users, and dividend income, as shown by details compiled by the FBR.
At the rate of 0.5% advance tax on sales to retailers, the FBR pooled mere Rs4.4 billion from the retailers in the first quarter. It was probably the lowest contribution by any income group. The share of retailers and wholesalers in the total size of the economy was around 19%, but their share in total income tax was merely 0.7%.
Tax collection from contractors and service providers jumped by 35% to Rs106.3 billion in the first quarter. While this is the second single largest income tax collection head, the FBR does not have any role in it.
The collection on account of profit on debt jumped 42% to Rs113 billion in three months, the single largest contributor. The increase suggests the impact of higher interest rates and people’s tendency to save money. Banks charge 10% to 50% income tax rates on these savings accounts on behalf of the FBR.
Importers paid Rs89.5 billion in income tax on various types of imports, the third-largest contributor to withholding taxes.
There was a 75% increase in income tax collection through electricity bills due to the massive increase in electricity prices that pushed the bills above Rs25,000 per month level. The FBR collected Rs2.5 billion income tax through bills, up from Rs1.4 billion last year.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2023.
IHC halts Rs35b tax on banks
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday suspended the government’s decision to impose a windfall income tax on commercial banks for the recovery of Rs35 billion, after lawyers questioned the powers of the interim setup and the constitutionality of the move.
The court’s decision came a day before the last date for the payment of an estimated Rs35 billion tax by those commercial banks that had manipulated the value of foreign currency to make extra profits.
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was betting on the Rs35 billion in revenues to achieve its monthly target of nearly Rs711 billion. It is now left with the goal of collecting over Rs100 billion more today (Thursday) to meet the monthly target, although it may achieve the five-month tax collection target of Rs3.45 trillion.
design: Ibrahim Yahya
design: Ibrahim Yahya
“The submissions (by petitioners) demonstrate not only a prima facie case but also that the ingredients of balance of convenience and irreparable loss operate in favour of the petitioner. Resultantly, the operation of the impugned statutory regulatory order shall remain suspended till the next date of hearing,” reads the short order of the court.
Eight days ago, the FBR, through SRO 1588, had imposed a 40% windfall income tax on income from foreign exchange of banking companies for the preceding two years ended on December 31, 2021, and 2022.
Advocate Supreme Court, Salman Akram Raja, pleaded before the court on behalf of his banking clients.
While the government had anticipated banks to challenge the levy, the financial institutions were finding it difficult to hire lawyers to plead their case.
The government had issued the SRO under section 99D, which the Parliament had inserted into the law in June this year. While the FBR imposed taxes on the banks to get an additional Rs35 billion out of an estimated Rs90 billion windfall income, it conveniently ignored a windfall profit of approximately Rs1.5 trillion made by exporters. The Ministry of Finance has estimated that the exporters made a windfall gain of Rs1.5 trillion due to steep currency devaluation these past few years.
The banks’ lawyers argued that section 99D (through which the federal government could determine a tax rate between 0% and 40%) was tantamount to excessive delegation of power by Parliament and in breach of Article 77 of the Constitution.
The legal team also questioned the power of the caretaker government in imposing the tax, arguing that the function of the caretaker government was only to “attend to day-to-day affairs and (it) cannot extend its authority to a fresh taxation measure.”
The legal team also argued that the SRO was also defective in that the determination of the preconditions under section 99D, namely, the economic factors that led to the windfall income as well as the quantum of the windfall income, are conspicuous by their absence in the impugned SRO.
The team further argued that by reading the SRO, there was only an underlying (but invalidated) assumption that external economic factors have actually operated and led to a windfall income but without these being spelt out in the notification, which would be expected given the letter and spirit of section 99D.
The petitioners also claimed that the charge of additional tax conflicted with entry number 47 in the Legislative List for imposing an additional tax which was not warranted.
The law requires that the notification of the windfall tax has to be placed before the National Assembly within three months –a clause that the banks have now invoked as there is no assembly in Pakistan and the next elections are scheduled for February 8th.
The lawyer argued before the court that the government assumes that the next assembly will validate its action but it is quite possible that the National Assembly does not agree to bless the notification.
If the next assembly rejects the additional tax, banks would be at a disadvantageous position, according to the petitioners.
The court did not accept the arguments of the FBR legal counsel who submitted that the legislation has to remain operative until it is declared ultra vires. The court accepted the banks’ argument that the interim relief is sought in respect of the SRO, which is an executive act and not legislation and, therefore, prima facie not covered by the judgments on the point referred to by the counsel for the FBR.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2023.
Growers sound alarm on fertiliser crisis
Growers in Sindh have appealed to the federal and provincial governments, as well as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir, to take notice and prompt action to curb hoarding, smuggling, counterfeiting, and the black market of Urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilisers in Sindh immediately; otherwise, food insecurity could ensue.
“After demanding action from the federal and provincial governments on multiple occasions, I had to write a letter [available with The Express Tribune] to the COAS to address the ineptitude of all three fertiliser companies: Fauji Fertiliser Company Limited, Engro Fertilisers Limited, and Fatima Fertiliser Company Limited. Additionally, three Sindh government departments, including Sindh Agriculture Extension, Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), and Revenue, are being implicated in hoarding, smuggling, counterfeiting, and the black market of fertilisers due to nepotism, favouritism, and corruption. This is agonising farmers and driving up input costs of agricultural produce,” said Ali Palh, Advocate and President of the Small Growers’ Organisation Sindh Agriculture Research Council (SARC), speaking to The Express Tribune.
He highlighted that the government’s substantial subsidies to fertiliser companies have been in vain, as poor growers are not benefiting from them, leading to an acute shortage of fertilisers in the market. “We have laws, including the Sindh Fertiliser (Control) Act 1994 and Sindh Fertiliser (Control) Rules 1999; however, they are not being implemented to benefit peasants at all,” he emphasised.
Frustrated with the caretaker government, Jawaid Junejo, Chairman of the Farmer Organisations Council Sindh, expressed concern that large farmers are being compelled to purchase fertiliser sacks at almost double rates, while small growers are unable to obtain them, even at higher rates in the market. “We are running a social media trend; those who provide fertilisers at government rates to farmers will garner votes from the people in the upcoming general elections. This is the wheat sowing season, and we are being deprived of fertilisers,” he lamented.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA), Senior Vice President, Nabi Bux Sathio highlighted that instead of a controlled Urea price at Rs3,680 per 50kg bag, it is being sold for Rs5,000-5,500 per 50kg in the market. He pointed out that a 50kg sack of DAP, which was sold at Rs9,000 until October 30, is now being sold at Rs15,000 per 50kg bag due to wheat sowing and other Rabi season crops.
“A total of 6.5 million tonnes of Urea are being produced in the country, meeting a local demand of 6.2 million tonnes. We should have a surplus, but no action is being taken. Growers need Urea and DAP fertilisers for better yield, rapid growth of standing crops. I urged the Sindh Chief Minister during a meeting today (Wednesday) in Hyderabad to make the fertiliser portal, set up by the federal government under the Ministry of Industries and Production, public. This way, every farmer can obtain updated information about actual bags of fertilisers sent to authorised dealers in every district. I also proposed forming an agriculture advisory committee to monitor agriculture issues and fix problems through monthly meetings,” he concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2023.
Saudi Arabia wins bid for 2030 world fair
The Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh won the right to host the Expo 2030 world fair, vote results showed on Tuesday, in another diplomatic victory for a Gulf country after last year’s soccer World Cup in Qatar.
South Korea’s port city of Busan and Rome in Italy were also in the running to host the five-yearly event that attracts millions of visitors and billions of dollars in investment.
Riyadh won 119 votes, Busan 29 and Rome 17, results from 182 members of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) showed. Saudi Arabia needed two-thirds of the votes to win from the first round.
The Italian contestants were scathing in their disappointment.
“This huge result for Saudi was unexpected in those proportions,” Giampiero Massolo, head of the Italian Expo bid, told reporters. “It is no longer about the merits, but about transactions. Yesterday it was a soccer championship, tomorrow it will be the Olympics,” he added.
However, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol congratulated Saudi Arabia for winning the bid, calling the Gulf state “a key partner,” and adding that his nation would share the resources and experience gained to help Riyadh hold a successful event.
Riyadh had enlisted soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for the Al-Nassr Saudi club, to convince members in a video projected before the vote. Riyadh aims to host the event between October 2030 and March 2031.
The win is the icing on the cake for de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 programme, which aims to wean the country off its oil dependency.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2023.
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