After repeated failures to significantly increase the number of taxpayers the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is to embark on a drive to scour secondary date in search of tax delinquents. Down to the Upazilla levels they will seek businesses to provide data of employees that can then be backchecked at source and tax realised.
They are also seeking to identify house and flat ownership for similar income and asset tabulation. Both are good moves and support building on taxpayer numbers as well as ferreting out those who do not pay tax. The caveat as always is that such drives can be hopelessly lopsided.
During the Ershad regime there was an attempt beginning in the affluent neighbourhoods of Gulshan, Dhanmondi and Uttara to list properties and apartments back to the owners and reconcile with tax returns. It stuttered to a halt as the bureaucracy in particular growled their reticence. In all fairness, the Real Estate Industry boom can easily be attributed to the growing numbers of plots that are given up for development into apartment complexes.
If a list of registered flats going back to ten years is examined at the Registration offices, a reasonable list can then be traced back to Income Tax returns or new return force-filed. The BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority) files will contain vehicle details that, too, can be traced against Advanced Income Tax (AIT) paid.
The rest should follow in natural course. Perhaps the legislators, who frame laws, can take the lead by disclosing their income between 2009-today so their tax payments can be matched accordingly.
Ideally the NBR should be able to list the country's adult population based on the National Smart Card or National Identity cards cross-checked with Income Tax payer's list and further cross-checked with employee records. The process should weed out discrepancy in tax payments.
Simple matters such as whether Service Charges in high-end restaurants reach the waiting staff. A similar discrepancy has led to staff of TGFI eating outlets in the UK going on strike.
VAT on medical services is as sickening as it sounds but physicians should not have issues with issuing receipts for attending to patients.
Likewise, the number of patients attended free of charge should be compensated from Income Tax.
Holding tax papers at homes has to be made mandatory for the taxman to check but the right to privacy demands that before any enquiry a proper appointment is made. Overnight nothing will change but a pilot scheme in the three major residential areas as well as those in old Dhaka and District towns properly supervised will deliver results.
If NBR does it on its own the discretionary element of their jurisdiction cannot be managed and could cause severe disenchantment.
Everyone complains of mismanagement and question efficiency of the taxman who has, notwithstanding massive numbers of cases and appeals, managed to raise revenue well in excess of inflation creditably.
Their image has to be taxpayer-friendly and not foes. The carrot is as necessary as the stick.
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