Stakeholders have spoken highly of the assets information Web portal launched by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), but in the same breath warned that in case of a security breach, the sensitive data may be hacked and used for harassment.
The FBR has introduced a separate portal for asset information and asked the general public to view the details of assets registered to their Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) number.
The access has been granted through a secured process of login against a password generated via registered mobile phones.
The stakeholders said that this development would boost the ongoing asset declaration scheme, adding that it would also help those people who have queries about their details with the FBR.
However, they are concerned over the possible misuse of information and questioned the safety of accessing the database.
Some questions have also been raised about outdated information.
Badaruddin Ahmad Qureshi, the chief commissioner for inland revenue (CCIR) at the Regional Tax Office (RTO)-II, has explained that the FBR is already in possession of this information.
“The website has been launched with the sole aim of letting the general public in on what the FBR has so far unearthed,” he said.
Qureshi added that two years ago the FBR had a database of around 5.6mn transactions gathered from various sources, including electricity connections, banking transactions, motor vehicle registrations, air travel, and education fees.
“This database is grown over time, and continues to expand with more and more data pouring in from local transactions as well as information made available through the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) treaty,” the tax official said.
To bring more people into the tax net, Qureshi said the FBR is geared up to take action in light of the latest guidelines, but it would wait for the ongoing asset declaration scheme to expire.
Daroo Khan Achakzai, the president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), has supported the step, but is sceptical of the security of the sensitive data, given the rampant corruption in the tax apparatus.
“The database should not only be for viewing purpose. It should allow people to intimate the FBR about those transactions which they have made or not made,” he said.
Achakzai further suggested that there should be a provision on the portal that allows a person to know how many times his or her profile had been viewed.
He said that during his meeting this week with Prime Minister Imran Khan, the latter made it clear that the government had information about the assets of tax dodgers, and that the asset declaration scheme is the best and last opportunity for them.
The FPCCI president quoted the prime minister as saying that the government has no option but to take stern action against tax evaders.
Achakzai said that the FPCCI had suggested to Prime Minister Khan that the government allow for a three-month grace period, for payment under the asset declaration scheme, on declarations that were filed by June 30, 2019.
Meanwhile, Abdul Qadir Memon, the president of the Pakistan Tax Bar Association (PTBA), said that the FBR’s Web portal is a useful tool for members of the public to access the information about their tax profile.
“The information should be used for deterrence in order to make the ongoing amnesty scheme successful,” he said.
Memon said that all the tax authorities around the world keep such information and have automated the assessment on the basis of such details.
He added that people should avail the tax amnesty scheme to avoid harsh penal action, adding that tax amnesty scheme had very low tax rates.
Besides, Memon said, the valuations of immovable properties notified by the FBR are also very low.
Ikhtiar Baig, a senior business leader representing the banking sector, said that people should avail amnesty scheme as their information had been made public.
He expressed reservations over the possible leakage of information, and said that the FBR’s past track record is not sound in this regard.
“There should be foolproof security for the information, and access of FBR officials should be restricted,” Baig added.
He said that the business community should have been taken on board before launching such initiative.
Baig said, however, that the business community stands by the FBR in this matter.
Speaking about future course of action by the FBR after the tax amnesty scheme lapses, he said that it depends upon the government’s will.
Yahya Polani, a representative of and a former chairman of the Air Travel Association of Pakistan, said that the asset information portal was launched very late.
“Time for availing amnesty scheme should be extended,” he said.
With this initiative, the number of taxpayers and revenue would increase, Polani said, adding that if the government is able to increase tax revenue by 2-3% of the GDP, it would help Pakistan reduce debt and soften the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Speaking on the security of the Web portal, he said that there would be a lot of such “noise” raised in the FBR, claiming that many tax officials are not in favour of broadening the tax base.
Polani said that the FBR had neither taken the information of passengers from the air travel association nor was the association taken on board before taking such measures.
He urged the government to extend the date for availing of the tax amnesty scheme, because due to fiscal year closing in June, many people are facing liquidity problems.
Shafiq Ahmed Shaikh, the head of public relations at Suzuki Motors, termed it a timely move by the FBR, and said that it would improve public confidence regarding their queries about their details of assets.
“This will make direct contact of general public with the FBR,” he added.
Hanif Gohar, the former chairman of the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD), said that the FBR’s move shows the commitment of the government for raising revenue through broadening of the tax base.
“This has to be done for bringing taxable incomes into the tax net,” he said, adding that it would eliminate the grey economy.
Gohar said that although people are not mentally prepared for this, due to prevailing tax culture in the country, the economy must be documented.
He said that the government had opened many avenues simultaneously.
“The government should gradually improve the tax net on the basis of available information,” he said.
Gohar said that the information of assets should be meant for bringing in new taxpayers, and that existing taxpayers should be provided relief.
The launch of the Web portal also drew mixed reactions from users on social media.
One user wrote: “I think data integration will improve. More WHT (withholding) taxes need to be included. From the data, I can see the following data has been integrated so far: FIA Travel, Home/Interior ministry permits, Motor Vehicle authority, No data from banks, educational institutions, NCCPL, mobile phones.”
Another user complained: “I just checked mine. It’s a good step but data is still incomplete, there were at least 7-8 types of WHT I have paid yet it only showed 2 types to me – that too 2 years old.”
One pointed out: “Just checked mine, some of the travel data and mobile payment data is wrong. Have no e-mail address where you can approach customer services for correction. However, fast and informative!”
An angry user wrote: “Who is the holder of all my “correlated assets, travel, expense information”, where is the data stored and what is the confidentiality around it. This is not as simple as it sounds.
“I have not signed up, but during the registration process, do you sign up on the terms and conditions, and ‘agree and consent’ to provide and let the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) retain all your information?
“Who is Nadra to have access to all my information, and under what legal provisions?”
A user said: “The portal has incomplete info. Might backfire if people discover that the govt does not have all the information they claim to have.”
“Overall the response is mixed but whoever has checked seems to have the same issue of the portal not having updated information and mostly incomplete, but then it’s possible that the data will continue to be updated, and once registered people can monitor and see what information the FBR has on their transactions and assets, and will encourage them to file returns,” another user wrote.
“As per info provided, the Nadra FBR site has removed data of tax paid in terms of income and asset value and stated it as indicative profile primary info included is only based on CNIC filed for connections for electricity, gas, etc,” one user said. “Important aspect is data pertaining to travel ownership of vehicles which will be used by the FBR for issuing notices as expected.”
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