Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has put across her message without mincing words, “the Pakistani elite also need to pay up so that the world follows suit”, more or less like that. The issue of paying taxes by the salaried middle-class alone and the unjust taxation system has assumed so much significance and attracted so much attention that some pundits have started foretelling a public revolt, if not a revolution. And if Hillary can see it coming then it is coming, for sure. This elite-based taxation system will have to go away to make space for a just and equitable system in which all pay taxes according to their capacity.
So much has been written on this subject which is dry in nature and which creates bad taste at the end of reading an article on it. However, Saqib Omer Saeed, in his article appearing in the Express Tribune has approached this subject in an interesting manner. In view, the tax is a product which the government has failed to sell. Here are excerpts from the article:
Due to negative media portrayal, people look upon taxation as a monster. I can’t agree with classical economists, nor with the conventional discipline of tax science. To me, taxation is merely a product of the government. I know the objection can be raised that if tax is a product, we can avoid buying it. I think we need to ignore this aspect, however, and try to make one point: everybody has to buy this product. It is a product that works for the well-being of society and helps governments work towards social and infrastructural development. That means by ‘selling’ tax, the government can generate revenue that allows it to fund projects for the public good. As I previously stated, tax is a product; therefore it follows that we, the clients, are the kings.
They need to be careful not to make the “product” (i.e: tax) too expensive. It is actually revenue that is taxed, not businesses or individuals. The government needs to make sure that they take care of their clients’ revenues, for their own good. It is not advisable for them to develop tax in a way that would harm businesses, or make people poor. The focus should be on increasing prosperity, for their own long-term benefit. In order to a good relationship with their “clients” (i.e: citizens), the government needs to help people earn. This means that they have to market effectively by increasing people’s wealth, so that they are able to afford taxes. No government can be efficient if they simply collect tax, rather than investing in it. Investment in taxes means that it is necessary to multiply the number of clients-those with income and earning. The best would be to invest in establishing businesses that can increase tax revenue in the long run.
It is always advisable to diversify the tax portfolio, rather than putting pressure on selling tax to just one strata of the economy. Diversification of taxes would be a great step in reducing the economy’s unrest. In countries like Pakistan, agriculture or capital gains are wholly exempt from taxation and only the salaried classes are taxed. This can lead to a point when people would rather ignore taxes than pay them. Those who are responsible for collecting taxes need to behave like salesmen. They need to discuss the means for increasing people’s revenue, so that they are able to pay more taxes. It is advisable for the government to survey tax-buyers to find out means for improving people’s cash flow. To create a tax culture, it is best to convince people that taxes are not there to harm them, but help create a more prosperous society in the long run.
New client development is another thing that would help promote taxes. The government has to plan a fixed percentage of tax revenue that will be invested in promoting entrepreneurs and small businesses. When businesses grow, it would automatically increase tax revenue as well. As a business, the government has to care for its own costs. They have to use intelligent means for tax collection and need to be cost efficient. During phases where the government is investing in taxation procedures, it must keep its running costs low.
In countries like Pakistan, taxes are becoming a symbol of terror. This is mainly because of the performance record of the government and their reputation for corruption. It would be best if people could pay taxes knowing that the money will be used for their own benefit. Generally, the government is thankful if if people pay the taxes that are imposed on them. Taxation should be a process whereby the taxpayer thanks the government for using his money to improve society. A little change of perspective is always required to cultivate an acceptance of something that is considered bad but may actually be very beneficial. If the reality can’t be changed for the time being, then changing perceptions may help create that change.
I think it is time for tax authorities and governments to rework the concept of taxes in Pakistan. They need to build credibility and educate people about how taxes are the way to a bright future, rather than a monstrous thing to be avoided. This would require a massive endeavor from the government. I know my post of will receive a lot of criticism, but if companies can sell cigarettes that are harmful to consumers, why can’t the government sell tax, which is highly beneficial (if used sincerely). It is a time to design a framework for developing taxes, rather than imposing them by force. The best way is to take the middle path. This will come from brainstorming: our country is unique and therefore needs unique solutions.