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OPINION

What colour is gold — black and white also?

Neil Ray | Published: June 30, 2019 21:26:01 | Updated: July 01, 2019 21:42:57


In this country of wonder and surprise, even gold can be black. But it is only in terms of economy and euphemistically speaking. It is insoluble in chemicals and hence has no chance of turning black. No magician's wizardry will be able to change its original hue which is golden. But economics' magical power is so strong that it can turn gold's colour white too.

Still unconvinced? Then go through some of the newspaper headlines of the last few days of the last month. Let's make it clear. A three-day gold fair was organised where approximately 20,000 kilograms of gold were whitened. To do this, gold traders did not have to learn or resort to any alchemy, all they had to do is pay taxes at the rate of Tk 1,000 a bhori (11.664 grams). Their black gold -in fact undisclosed portion of stock - instantly turned white or otherwise legalised.

It was an open secret that gold trade in the country was overwhelmingly dependent on smuggled gold. About 80 per cent of the yearly demand for the precious metal was met by gold coming through illegal channels. Gold, diamond and silver traders were not entirely to blame for this because import was cumbersome in the absence of a defined gold policy. It was treated more like an informal sector. Even after formulation of the Gold Policy 2018, the situation did not improve. Old habits die hard and also traders did not have an avenue to come clean on their stinky stocks they built up over the years.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the demand for any commodity would be somehow met if there is no easy and legal channel for its import. Society has its infatuation for gold and with the rise of the number of moneyed people here, the demand for gold, diamond and other pricey consumer goods has also gone up. Extra income is spent on material possession. That the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport has seen a rush of huge consignments of gold smuggling over the years explains why the trade was dependent mostly on illegal procurement. It is suspected that only 10 per cent of the smuggled gold could be seized by the customs and the police. One trader had the audacity to declare that he did not smuggle gold, but the government people did and he only purchased it. A huge gold haul from a large jeweller last year also corroborates the fact.

All such developments may have set the authorities thinking that the only way to bring sanity in gold trading is offering the opportunity for traders to legalise their undisclosed stocks. At the same time the National Board of Revenue (NBR) could garner a sizeable amount in taxes. Reportedly, the three-day fair fetched Tk 1.75 billion in taxes to the exchequer. One of the NBR officials hopes that the total amount of tax may be as high as Tk 3.0 billion by June 30 -the last date for whitening black gold.

Now the question is, if the opportunity offered will follow a similar exercise where businesspeople are offered such an incentive almost every year in the national budget to turn their black money white. Will the gold traders come clean once for all and the routes of gold smuggling dry up altogether henceforth. If traders themselves import gold through legal routes, they do not have to purchase smuggled gold. This calls for business integrity and that is wanting most on this soil. But at least the authorities will be placed on a moral high ground to conduct operation against jewellers possessing smuggled gold or diamond.   

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