Fewer than a third of Parliament members in Pakistan file annual tax returns, according to a report published on Wednesday, lending new focus to longstanding complaints from foreign donors and ordinary Pakistanis about tax evasion at the highest levels of society.
The report, which was published jointly by two civil society organisations — the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives and the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan — found that just 126 of the country’s 446 federal lawmakers filed income tax returns in 2011. Among the leaders who did not was President Asif Ali Zardari, the report said.
The report does not take into account the tax paid by politicians on their parliamentary salaries, which is automatically deducted by the government. Instead, it focuses on the lawmakers’ declarations of supplemental income from property, professional practices and other sources of revenue.
“Tax evasion has become a social norm in our country,” said Umar Cheema, an investigative journalist who compiled the report. “People don’t consider it a crime. But this tax demand established a bond between the people and the state. That’s how you become a stakeholder in society.”
Pakistan has a chronically low rate of income tax collection. Of the country’s 180 million people, only 2 per cent are registered to pay tax, and fewer than a quarter of those actually do, so according to the report.