Spare The Rich And Tax The Poor
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To be rich and influential in Pakistan is to be above the law. Everything is a phone call away, be it contraband, an electricity or telephone connection or a way out of trouble with the law. A recent expose of the 'great tax scam' proved that in Pakistan the richer you are the less tax you pay. And if you happened to be President Leghari, you paid none at all!

An expose by journalist Zahid Hussain in Newsline, a monthly published from Karachi, showed that while Leghari and the chief ministers of Sindh and Baluchistan paid no income tax, the chief ministers of Punjab and the Frontier provinces paid just Rs 1,784 and Rs 1,953 respectively, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto paid Rs 32,684 and former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, one of the richest men in the country, paid a meagre Rs 2,680 in income tax and Rs 2.53 lakh in wealth tax. The feudal lords, who accounted for 27 per cent of the country's earnings, paid a total of just Rs 22 lakh in tax last year.

Of the 120 million population, there are only 1 million taxpayers, most of whom are from the salaried class or self-employed professionals. The extent to which they bear the tax burden is evident from the fact that last year a top Karachi lawyer, Kahlid Ishaque, who paid Rs 58 lakh in income tax, became the highest tax payer in Pakistan. His returns exceeded the tax paid by all the top politicians and all members of the National Assembly, together. Says Razia Bhatti, editor, Newsline: "The estimates are that the sum lost through tax evasion and exemptions could wipe out the budgetary deficit twice over."

Tax evasion apart, most Pakistani politicians consider it their right not to pay bills and to have bank loans written off. Says Talat Rahim, publicity manager, Pakistan Tourism Development Authority: "Everything—public utilities, the judiciary, the education system, job opportunities and communications network—is geared towards those with clout. If you don't have it, kowtow to those who do. People with self respect can eat their hearts out. This is the way the cookie crumbles in Pakistan."

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