The revenue conundrum

Mahmudur Rahman | Published: January 31, 2019 21:02:41

With a slow second quarter of the fiscal it is now certain that the National Board of Revenue (NBR) will be behind its targets of collections. The Annual Development Programme (ADP) will follow suit what with the elections, new ministers and most important, time having lapsed in between. The Bridges Division has downscaled its demands for funds by Tk 17.40 billion (1740 crore) and figures of other mega projects are likely to fall in similar line.

The NBR is searching for another ten million listed tax payers even though it can't get existing ones to pay their fair due in taxes. The search has taken them to closely monitor luxury cars being registered on a daily basis wherefrom not only is advance Income Tax collected but leads are there to examine full records of the clients under question. Unfortunately, as the process dithers for a variety of reasons - influence of the individual concerned being amongst them - there is a tendency on further squeezing and harassing those that are paying their dues.

The economy has grown and continues to grow but the NBR is pursuing the wrong end of the tax stick by not chasing those that took loans, defaulted on them and still get off scot-free. A banker commenting on condition of anonymity was clear that all bad debt currencies have safely been dispatched abroad. On that score a special intelligence wing needs to be empowered to travel and unearth the properties and assets accumulated abroad by illustrious and those not so individuals. The taxman must also find ways between the loopholes to unearth those who not only amass fortunes out of nowhere but can also repatriate moneys to buy properties abroad.

International cooperation on money laundering is lax to say the least, highlighted by the ease with which Islamic State (IS) operators were able to run business in the oil trade from occupied regions. That this was done in cohorts with legitimate operators is a given. International banks have been fined heavily for a whole host of misdemeanours including money laundering and the IS's role is a much more recent phenomena.

Money laundering is easy in Bangladesh due to the popular and infallible Hundi system that finances unofficial trade between Bangladesh and India as well as plays a major role in remittances outside the official channels. For the NBR to grow revenues they must focus on smaller businesses that have become big, especially local businesses including the transport sector in the country's regions. With its offices across the region raids on businesses along the likes of the anti-corruption commission on schools and health establishments will certainly deliver more than what can be unfairly squeezed from existing taxpayers.

The taxman isn't always correct but if the outstanding tax cases were resolved through the courts and alternate dispute disposal systems, unpaid revenues would come in thereby reducing the shortfalls due to a slowdown in economic activities. Likewise, such speedy resolutions will provide business certainties for houses that constantly reel under the threat of unresolved cases. The courts essentially take a lenient view in favour of the taxation authorities in the interest of revenue and therefore results are expected rather than a logjam on grounds of seeking time to argue cases.


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