Government set to go public with data of 53 million people

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to capture real incomes of people, the government announced on Friday to make the ‘treasure trove’ of 53 million persons public, but it has not yet transformed the data into actionable information that may minimise the chances of its effective utility, Tribune reported.

[the_ad id=”31605″] LPThe information about 53 million people will be available on the web portals of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), said FBR Chairman Shabbar Zaidi while addressing a press conference.

The nature of data available on the NADRA website is different from the information available on FBR’s website. NADRA has not been granted access to the bank accounts of the citizens, as it does not have such mandate. But the FBR has got information of about 50 million bank accounts that it wants to use to assess the real incomes of the people.

Due to FBR’s capacity constraints, it will not be able to go after all the people. FBR Member Inland Revenue Policy Dr Hamid Atiq Sarwar said that next month, FBR would go after 50 people. Sarwar added that the government wanted to utilise the information to enhance tax base from less than two million to four million by the end of fiscal year 2019-20.

Zaidi had to face questions about the legality of involving NADRA into tax matters, as the data registration authority does not have legal mandate to venture into such areas that were deemed to be ‘confidential’ and also related to taxation.

To a question, Zaidi also admitted that NADRA’s data was “not actionable” and it largely comprised of travel details and certain business transactions. NADRA does not know whether the money that is used for conducting a transaction is tax-free or not, as is the case with the agriculture income.

It is not for the first time that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has made claims about “treasure trove” of information of people who are outside the tax net. Earlier, the government had claimed that it received information of about 152,000 bank accounts from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Where the FBR claims to

go after 53 million people, it has not done anything to go after federal ministers whose hidden assets have been reported by media.

The FBR chairman said that the government would ensure confidentiality of this data and its access would be given to the individual to whom the information relates to.

Zaidi also said that the information will not become the base for any tax assessment but it can be used while assessing the tax liability of a person.

The FBR chairman added that on basis of NADRA’s data, FBR could not impute the income of a person as NADRA’s data was not actionable.

But he pointed out that public availability of 53 million people’s data would help people make a decision on whether they should avail the ongoing tax amnesty scheme or not. To a question about poor results of the ongoing tax amnesty scheme, the chairman said that if people do not avail the scheme, even then FBR would be at an advantage as it could collect maximum taxes from these people.

During a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan nearly three months ago, NADRA promised to siphon off the data to make it actionable. But this task has not yet been completed. Instead, NADRA is using the information to earn a few bucks.

NADRA would charge Rs500 per from every person who requests to see his information, unlike FBR which would not charge any amount, said Zaidi.

“Making any information actionable is a long process,” said Zaidi. He shared that the tax authority also did not have exact information about how many of the 53 million people were receiving agriculture income.

Under the 1973 Constitution, the federal government cannot tax the agriculture-based income.

Zaidi said that the FBR would coordinate with NADRA but legal right to tax people rests with the FBR.

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