Amnesty ‘bears fruit’ as FBR registers 51,000 illegal vehicles

Friday, April 12th, 2013 7:59:59 by

ISLAMABAD: The amnesty scheme for registering smuggled vehicles may be a controversial move introduced by former Federal Board of Revenue chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem, who was removed recently, but it ended up legalising over 51,000 vehicles besides fetching Rs16 billion in revenues.

If the numbers provided by the FBR are to be believed, the tax authorities have had a resounding success at a time when the annual revenue target of Rs2.381 trillion looks set to be missed. Over 51,000 vehicles were registered across the country, mainly in Quetta and Peshawar – the two centres which are close to the porous border with Afghanistan.

Tax authorities collected Rs16.1 billion in duties on these vehicles and in addition to this provincial governments would get billions of rupees worth of benefits in the shape of registration fee and excise duty, said Mohammad Riaz, Member Customs of FBR.

According to the FBR statistics, the highest number of vehicles – 17,950 – was registered in Quetta, followed by Peshawar with 17,500, Karachi 5,900, Gwadar 2,900, Hyderabad 1,570, Faisalabad 1,250, Sialkot 1,160, Multan 1,110, Islamabad 1,100 and Lahore 650.

According to Riaz, most of the registered vehicles were around 10 years old while only 17 were less than three years old.

During hearings of the missing persons’ case, Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had asked the FBR and law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal vehicles as according to the security agencies these vehicles were being used in kidnapping and sabotage activities.

However, after a six-month campaign by the FBR and law enforcement agencies, only 3,000 vehicles were seized, said Riaz.

An apex court bench, headed by the chief justice, is still hearing the missing persons’ case, besides a commission on missing persons.

According to the revenue board’s estimates, at least 150,000 to 200,000 unregistered vehicles are plying the country’s roads. Many of these are in border areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well as Gilgit-Baltistan.

This had forced the FBR administration to devise an amnesty scheme, but it faced resistance from some segments.

The former FBR chairman was of the view that they had to take certain measures to boost tax collection that was falling far behind the annual target.

However, parliament did not endorse his other amnesty scheme for hidden income and assets. The PPP-led coalition government changed its policy at the eleventh hour despite the bill being passed by the standing committees of Senate and National Assembly.

The FBR had told the lawmakers that revenues of at least Rs120 billion would be collected, but their internal working showed that the potential was in the range of Rs300 billion to Rs400 billion.

The Federal Tax Ombudsman and Competition Commission of Pakistan were not in favour of the vehicle amnesty scheme, the important institutions that often remain silent when billions of rupees worth of amnesties are given every year in the budget and during the course of a year by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2013.

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