Taxation System of Pakistan: Structure and Trends

Article excerpt

Tax Jurisdiction

Fiscal structure in Pakistan is divided between the Federal and the Provincial Governments. This structure was derived from the revenue-sharing provisions of the Government of India Act 1935 and has been incorporated into successive constitutional provisions delineating the respective revenue powers of the Federal and Provincial Governments. Under the present 1973 constitution, Federal and Provincial Governments are assigned separate revenue jurisdictions. The Federal Government has the constitutional right to levy a wide range of direct taxes including:

* Personal and corporate tax (excluding tax on agricultural income)

* Capital taxes (excluding tax on immovable property)

* Estate duty and gift tax (since abolished)

The Provinces are empowered to legislate in respect of direct taxes not reserved to the Federal Government. The provinces levy the following direct taxes:-

* Tax on agriculture income

* Urban immovable property tax

* Capital gains tax on land and building

* Land Revenue tax

* Taxes on professions, trades and callings.

History of Tax Policy Changes

Pakistan inherited a sophisticated taxation structure at the time of its independence in 1947. The system underwent substantive changes over the years with a view to augmenting the resources as well as meeting other economic needs. From 1947 to 1979, the changes made to the tax structure generally included:

* Granting industrial incentives by means of tax exemptions to industrial undertakings in specified backward regions or industries, i.e. area and activity-specific concessions.

* Extending the exemption of agricultural income to agricultural-related industry e.g. renting out of agricultural machinery, manufacturing of specified agricultural machinery, and providing agricultural related services.

* Suspending the operation of capital gains tax.

* Enacting capital taxes (Wealth Tax, Estate duty and Gift Tax - of which the latter two have been since repealed)

* Granting savings incentives to individuals e.g. investment allowance; and exemption of interest income from specified Government securities, etc.

* Enacting various ad hoc exemptions, e.g. exemptions to welfare trusts and foundations, certain pension incomes, etc.

In June 1979, the Income Tax Act of 1922, was replaced by the Income Tax Ordinance, 1979. It made no fundamental changes in the system of income taxation. Instead, as announced by the Government, the reasons for enforcing the new enactment were to arrange the provisions in more systematic and logical form, simplify the law plug the loopholes, remove lacunae and ambiguities, and to evolve a tax system which is fair, equitable and capable of voluntary compliance leading to effective administration. Thus, the fundamental concepts of fiscal policy as well as the basic features of the tax laws remained unchanged.

During the 1980's, certain clear departures were made from the concepts followed during the previous decades. In the area of personal taxes, the income threshold for tax purposes was substantially raised. Income computation provisions, particularly those relating to technical service fees, carry forward of losses, investment allowances and donations to charities were liberalised. Agriculture income was also included in the tax base for rate purposes. Investment income such as dividends, interest, capital, gains, etc. attracted a mixed approach, i.e. extension in certain exemptions and withdrawal of others.

Tax rates were gradually reduced during 1980s. The policy on depreciation of fixed assets was liberalised. Industrial investment incentives in the form of tax and investment credits and tax holidays were expanded along with the extension of existing concessions. The withholding taxes were extended as a measure of resource mobilisation as well as for expanding the tax base. …