The billions that never get realized

Mahmudur Rahman | Published: September 05, 2018 21:30:31 | Updated: September 07, 2018 21:58:18

The taxman has taken umbrage because Tk 150 billion worth of what he believes is due revenue hasn't come to the exchequer. The pot is a mix of public and private sector dues essentially divided into two accounts. The public sector seeks the correct book to charge it to and the private sector just doesn't agree most of it is due to begin with. Some of the money is stuck between court proceedings but in nine cases out of ten winning the argument against the government is next to impossible.

Taxing people VAT and surcharge for talking on the phone has taken recharge facility close to the ridiculous. A transaction is barely complete before taxes and such eat away at the investment. The good natured consumer hems and haws but can't let go of their favourite pastime.

Robi Axiata has reported another quarter of losses due to what it says is investment and a decline in calls though data usage, as had been predicted years ago, is on the up. Whether calls will further decline thanks to a master stroke by the regulator in increasing minimum call rates from thirty paisa to forty five will only be clear by the next quarter. That the consumer will play more added to the increase in costs with applicable taxes is a foregone conclusion. And for all the innocence behind the curtain, none of the cell phone companies have yet come clear with whether their investments in 2G, 3G and 4G have paid off-if so by when.

The Telecom Minister has warned he will be holding companies accountable for Quality of Service now that 4G networks are in place. The 'how' and 'when' remain valid questions. Way after most telcos proudly announced they had completed network coverage, the 4G sensor blinks too often for comfort and speed remains an issue. But similar admonishment is not forthcoming from Ministers under whom different businesses operate and that are similarly guilty of not having paid up. The government on its part has rudely overlooked the realities of taxation-official or unofficial leaving the consumer poorer in the pocket. Wasteful expenditure, massive cost-overruns and graft are combining to an exacerbation of costs, especially in relation to mega projects. With collections healthy but nowhere in line with expenditure no one is asking if such taxation is at all realistic or viable. Little has been evident in either curbing or converting the grey market in to the white one. Bottom tier ceilings have remained unchanged in order to increase the tax net but in an age where services are booming versus the industrial sectors, potential has been sadly ignored. For years the (ready-made garment) RMG sector bickered about export taxes but went along with it anyway. It's now the turn of e-commerce to yell discontent from the roof tops. The Finance Minister is treading softly in asking the National Board of Revenue (NBR) for proposals vis-a-vis e-commerce taxation. The sector understandably is nervous. Lower taxes is an answer because indefinite tax-holidays just do not work. The problem is - everyone wants the privilege.


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