Coalition of the unwilling

This month we were told something we already knew but had not quantified recently. It has been revealed that only one-third of our 446 members of parliament file income tax returns. And from those that do, they massively under-report their incomes.

Despite all the luxuries our government bestows on them, our representatives don't want to give any money to the state. This should come as no surprise given that only two per cent of the population is registered in the tax system and the government collects just nine per cent of the country's wealth in taxes, one of the lowest rates in the world.

In any other country, there would have been an outrage at this reluctance to pay tax by the parliamentarians. Not in Pakistan. Here, there was a different kind of outrage — parliament wants to take action against those who leaked the data to enterprising Umar Cheema, the reporter who, through his Centre for Investigative Reporting, pieced together  the data.

Our coalition of the unwilling has deemed it more important to hunt down those who gave this data in the first place. And heads will now roll. This is what the priorities are for our elected representatives.

The elite continue to live off others. But that does not mean Pakistanis do not pay tax. There are 70 unique taxes that are administered by 36 different agencies in the country. The problem is that the rich and powerful manage to get away without paying much. It is the salaried class that bears much of the burden.

The best comparison would be that Pakistan has been ruled by the Republicans since independence. But without the benefits that come with such an arrangement. Our rich are getting richer but the economy is going bust. The same parliamentary camaraderie continues in other areas as well.

In another display of across-the-aisle cooperation, the National Assembly unanimously passed the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill. The bill empowers six military and civilian intelligence agencies and the police to conduct surveillance and intercept emails, SMSs, telephones and any other form of computer or cell-based communications of Pakistanis in a bid to counter terrorism. This from a government that earlier promised more accountability of the unaccountable.

We were told that there was a lot of debate by all sides in the National Assembly. But this does not take away the fact that it would be a black law. It gives the state power to snoop in our personal affairs on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Historically, such power has never led to any help in fighting terrorism or putting criminals behind bars. It only makes those who are unaccountable more powerful. The government in power usually ends up targeting opposition politicians, journalists and members of civil society.

While the terrorists routinely attack our military bases and our towns and cities, much of our intelligence community continues to monitor people it sees as working against the interests of Pakistan. Many of these are members of the civil society who are advocating women's rights, better relations with neighbours or issues like the fate of missing persons.

Journalists who are under the watchful eye of our sleuths are those who report on corruption, on the war on terror and on our untouchables.

The common man is not spared, either. It is sad that when Pakistanis apply for an Indian visa, they have to spend an hour explaining themselves to the intelligence officials who will hound them at the gates of the embassy.

But no one investigates the visits by Pakistanis to brotherly Muslim countries from where we have imported terrorism. Or the channel of funding that fuels these outfits. One can only wonder who will be investigated under the new powers that we have given our intelligence agencies.

Now we are seeing the same understanding among the coalition extending to the coming elections. The coalition of the unwilling is uncomfortable with the manner the Election Commission is working towards free and fair elections.

If they have their way, some sort of arrangement needs to be worked out under which the Election Commission is tamed and the major players come up with some power-sharing arrangement. The only losers in the arrangement will be the people of Pakistan. They will be robbed of their right to elect their representatives. Never a dull moment in Pakistan.

Source:Express Tribune


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