Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Oops! I forgot the tax

Daily Star, August 8, 2007
News Analysis
Special Correspondent

Surprise, surprise! He is the man who would decry the culture of not paying tax. And she is the woman who would sit at the helm of the government and run the country with taxpayers' money. And yet both of them dodged taxes. Or, as they claim, 'forgot' to show their incomes.

M Saifur Rahman, who served as finance minister for 12 years in various terms until October 28, 2006, has legalised more than one crore taka by paying Tk 31 lakh in tax and penalty after the NBR allowed legalising undisclosed money. Former prime minister Khaleda Zia also grabbed the chance and legalised Tk 1.33 crore by paying Tk 33.87 lakh.

Saifur is a chartered accountant and is supposed to catch other people evading tax. He went around the tax departments scowling at the taxmen for their errant behaviour and waged a tirade against tax dodgers. "If the people paid their taxes, the country would not require to depend on foreign aid," he had once said in his budget speech. Yet he conveniently forgot to be diligent.

Khaleda was always the leader of one of the two largest parties and had enjoyed the support of a huge office set-up, and yet her tax files show gaping holes. She 'forgot' to mention her wealth accrued in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987 and 1991. It is also not clear from her wealth statement or report to the NBR if she ever paid any tax.

How would one expect the general people to fare when these two top people failed in their duty to pay tax?

The NBR had also directed its zonal offices that those accused of corruption and their family members will not get this money legalising opportunity. Both Saifur and Khaleda's sons are now in jail, awaiting trial for alleged corruption. To top it all, she is facing non-payment of tax as a director of a vernacular newspaper, Dainik Dinkal, the mouthpiece of her party -- the BNP. But the NBR accepted their applications. What a disagreement!

Worse still, spirit of the NBR to allow legalising undisclosed money was to help the general people who, for many reasons and not for faults of their own, failed to disclose their wealth. Now the same rule is being exploited by the former finance minister and the former prime minister.

The way the NBR behaved with other politicians or their families who evaded tax comes in sharp contrast to the case of Saifur and Khaleda. It has filed cases against at least 10 politicians, this does not include their spouses and children, for evading tax and at least one of them, Ali Asgor Lobi, has been sentenced to eight years. But when it accepts the application of the former finance minister and the former premier, it virtually means these two have been spared of the legal noose. The NBR had also refused to legalise undisclosed money of a number of politicians and their families. So, the question comes, why such preferential treatment to these two?

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