Why should I pay taxes?

15 Jul 2019

Recently, our elected prime minister made an earnest appeal to the nation to pay taxes. In the same breath, he said that until everyone paid their taxes honestly, Pakistan could not come out of the quagmire of debt in which it currently finds itself. There is no doubt that the government needs a huge amount of capital to run the state and that it collects a major portion of those funds through taxes. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for the masses to pay their taxes in order to allow the state to run better.

While we definitely welcome the sincere appeal made by the prime minister, doubts still remain in the mind of the common man. Why he should pay taxes when the government cannot even fulfill his basic needs? When a normal citizen goes to a government-run school or hospital, what kind of facilities are available? There is not a single person who is unaware of the sorry state of affairs in the government schools and hospitals or of the poor treatment being meted out to civilians.

No affluent person would like to go to the state-run hospital to get medication. No wealthy person would opt to send their children to a government school. Besides a lack of facilities, the merits required for admission to government-run schools and colleges are so high that most students fail to be admitted.

Some intellectuals present Western Europe as a model that Pakistan should follow. There, the people pay half of their income in taxes. These intellectuals wonder why Pakistani citizens could not do the same. While the taxes in Western Europe are very high, those countries are true welfare states. I met with the internationally acclaimed political scholar Noam Chomsky last year. To answer the question of which country is the best example of a welfare state, he said that most countries in Western Europe – and Norway in particular – are the best examples of that. The people in countries like Norway and Denmark have the best health facilities, educational systems, and transport sectors.

Similarly, if you go to the USA, it becomes extremely difficult to differentiate between the standards at a government-run university and a private sector university. For instance, the world-famous Harvard and Berkeley universities are located in the USA. Harvard is a private university while Berkeley is a government-run institution. It would, however, be difficult for someone to find a minute difference in the standard of education offered by these institutions if they were given the chance to study there. In my opinion, as an alumnus of both universities, the government-run Berkeley even takes the lead over Harvard in many areas.

Policies should be created to ensure that most taxes are collected at district council level and the majority can only be spent in the specific area, city, or tehsil the tax is collected in. Then, the people in each area could then see their money being spent on them and on their needs

In Pakistan, the standard of education in government institutions declines even further with each passing day. For instance, Punjab University is considered the best educational institute in Punjab – by Pakistani standards – but still has many departments that need to focus more on improvement.

The same situation is prevalent in our government-run hospitals. If you were to go to the Nishtar Hospital in Southern Punjab, you would witness a number of heart-rending sights. You would see patients holding their IV drips in their own hands. The doctors in most of the government hospitals run private clinics and provide medication to patients in return for hefty fees. How can doctors focus on their duties in a government hospital when they can charge exorbitant fees in their private clinics?

The issues are not only limited to the education and health sectors. High above all others, the systems of security and justice are of vital importance. It is regrettable that even today, to report a crime, a common citizen has to begin by paying to register a First Information Report (FIR). Then, after the investigation phase, that same citizen will face a cumbersome process in the subordinate courts and will still fail to receive justice. In such a situation, it is normal for a citizen to think time and time again about why they pay taxes and what purpose those taxes actually serve.

Providing quick and cheap justice to the common citizens is the least the government can do. One can get education and health facilities at private institutions but there are no private courts or police stations which can dispense justice to the people. So, it is possible to say that citizens across the board are adversely affected by the very flawed judicial system in our country, which also has a direct and negative effect on our economy.

The funds available to the federal government have considerably decreased thanks to the lion’s share going to the provinces due to the 18th Amendment. It is very probable that the federal government will try to hike its share by amending or rolling back the 18th Amendment. This would be detrimental to the country.

According to the constitution, it is essential that all powers, finances, and funds be transferred to the local bodies. In particular, if the district councils and local bodies were given sufficient power to solve all of the issues their people are facing, these bodies could collect more taxes under the condition that the major share of the funds would only be spent in that specific area.

Centralized provincial and federal departments collect taxes. This system makes it impossible to trace exactly where that tax money is being spent. So, the hard-earned money of the people in remote areas goes directly into the treasuries of those departments where those funds are spent on luxuries for officials and rulers.

Policies should be created to ensure that most taxes are collected at district council level and the majority can only be spent in the specific area, city, or tehsil the tax is collected in. Then, the people in each area could then see their money being spent on them and on their needs. This would restore the people’s trust in their government.

Published in Daily Times on Dated 15-July-2019.

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