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Pakistan ministers not paying income tax

By Awais Saleem, IANS,

Islamabad : Even as Pakistan is reeling under devastation caused by unprecedented floods that has cost the country’s economy a whopping $43 billion, a report by a newspaper Monday said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and 25 of his cabinet members have not paid any income tax for the last five years.

The floods left over 1,750 people dead and 20 million people homeless.

It has been estimated that the country needs $43 billion for rebuilding and rehabilitation and the government is looking towards donors and philanthropists to contribute generously for this cause.

However, when it comes to leading by example, the Pakistan government has been found wanting. The ministrers are reportedly yet to declare their assets or submit income tax returns as demanded by the election commission or other authorities concerned.

A report published Monday by The News International says Gilani and his cabinet members have not paid income tax for the last five years.

Gilani has a cabinet with 61 members, including 43 federal ministers and 18 ministers of state. The government also has a number of advisers and special assistants.

The cabinet ministers allegedly have many land holdings, business interests, plush cars and lead a lavish lifestyle and reach parliament after spending millions of rupees on their election campaigns.

“Each of these ministers cost the national exchequer at least Rs.100,000 per day,” said eminent economist Farrukh Saleem.

“They always preach austerity to the masses but hardly care to do anything themselves,” he said.

According to sources at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), all parliamentarians submitted their income tax returns in 2008 for three previous years.

Gilani, reportedly one of the biggest landlords in Punjab state, however, did not submit any tax return for any of these years.

Many other ministers of the Gilani government are also being accused of not paying taxes.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, minister for water and power, allegedly bought an apartment worth 60 million pounds in an upmarket London locality last year.

Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, who said earlier that it was difficult to extract taxes from influential people, has ironically himself not paid any income tax, according to the affidavit submitted to the senate in 2010.

Others in this list include Minister for Social Welfare Samina Ghurki, Sports Minister Aftab Jillani, Commerce Minister Amin Fahim, Minister for Defence Production Qayyum Jatoi (who has since been sacked), Food Minister Nazar Gondal, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Minister for Kashmir Affairs Manzoor Wattoo, Communications Minister Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and State Minister for Information Samsam Bokhari.

The parliamentarian who has paid the highest income tax, over Rs.20 million, is a lesser known Masood Abbas. The next in the list is Shagufta Jumani with Rs.24,232, while more than 15 ministers have paid less than Rs.10,000 in the tax.

A majority of ministers have chosen to pay agriculture tax which comes to a paltry thousand rupees, but have not paid any income tax.

“If this state of affairs persists, we’ll never be able to achieve our tax targets because the general public will follow the leaders”, said Farrukh Saleem.

(Awais Saleem can be contacted at [email protected])