Many in the country are raising eye-brows on the plea bargain option which the National Accountability Bureau offers to the corrupt elements to go clean even after they are caught red handed. A recent incident in Balochistan, in which the bureau allowed a government official involved in a mega corruption scandal to pay Rs 2 billion and walk free, is the issue to be taken seriously. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also expressed its reservations on the handling of the situation. The problem is not in the options available to the corrupt elements, but in the procedural flaws which allow corruption to flourish in the officialdom. Though the National Accountability Bureau is getting flak over the plea bargain option yet the government at the highest level is not tired of presenting one amnesty scheme or the other for tax evaders and others to whiten their ill-gotten money.
The newspaper reports suggest that the government is now ready to offer a general tax amnesty scheme to persuade the corrupt elements to bring back their money allegedly stashed in foreign countries. This will be probably the fourth scheme the government is going to offer during the last three years. If tax amnesty schemes are the only panacea with the government, why it is not introducing structural reforms in the prevailing tax collection methods to block tax evasion and money laundering. Investors only believe in the protection of their wealth and it is not difficult to adopt revolutionary methods to convert the country into a tax haven. Soft tax laws and lower tax rates not only help enhance tax base, but also give impetus to business, trade and investment activities. People invest in offshore company because they are offered tax relief and big profits. Tough and complex tax system always creates troubles for the government machinery as well as for the business community. The Pakistani stock market has emerged as one of the best performers in 2016 and the world is looking for business opportunities in the country. Going against investors will bring more chaos in the already cash-strapped investment climate in the country.
Instead of opening the past tax evasion cases, the government should look toward future. The witch-hunt of businessmen will create bad image for the country for the foreign investors. Revenue generation is the government job to run its affairs, but the method should not discourage potential investors. One point is clear in the whole scheme of things; unless the government brings structural changes in the tax laws and launches capacity building meetings for the officials, the hide and seek will continue between tax officials and tax evaders.