FOR all the fuss they are capable of making, our business elite can turn stingy with their words when it comes to the question of taxes. As an example consider a report in this paper that although 493,000 electricity connections were granted to industrial establishments in Karachi, only 115,000 commercial, business and industrial taxpayers were registered with the tax authorities. Unfortunately, that is not all. Out of these 115,000 only 80,000 were ‘active cases’, meaning those who actually contributed to tax revenue. Of course if similar data were to be retrieved from power companies up-country, they would show similar trends, perhaps even more pronounced.
Consider, for instance, what happened when a World Bank report plotted tax-to-GDP ratios for 24 different sectors across the economy. They found oil and gas sitting at the top and textiles at the bottom. In fact, for textiles the ratio was below the sector’s share in total GDP and below even those of retail and wholesale trade, agriculture, public administration, and defence. All of these are notorious for their evasion of taxes, and below them all merrily sits the largest manufacturing sector of our economy. Terms like ‘fat cat’ readily come to mind as we look at these numbers. In the fiscal year ended June 2011, the spinning sector raked in record profits on the back of high cotton prices, but none of the money showed up in corporate income taxes from the sector. Examples are too numerous to cite, but our business elite need to show some remorse, if only for the fact that they drive imported luxury cars to the very events where they loudly bemoan the difficulties of doing business in Pakistan and demand more support from the government. It would do them good to notice the ordinary masses riding in rickety vehicles and to tell themselves that it is revenue collected from these people that pays for the benefits and protections they seek. For all the feasts they’ve enjoyed at public expense, can we at least ask for a little shame in return?