Senators furious over media allegations of tax evasion by MPs

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Senators from both sides of the political divide went up in arms against the media on Thursday for allegations of tax evasion by members of the parliament, saying the journalists concerned, Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) chairman and other relevant staff should either be summoned by the Senate Committee on Finance or they should be taken to court to fix responsibility for defaming the “honourable politicians”.
Amid strong worded speeches by Opposition Leader Senator Ishaq Dar, Kamil Ali Agha, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsen and others, Senate Deputy Chairman Sabir Ali Baloch ruled that the Senate Committee on Finance take suo motu notice of media allegations against honourable MPs, summon the concerned individuals and take the matter to its conclusion. Speaking on a point of order, President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the media had levelled false allegations against the president without proper verification of facts. He said he had consulted with the tax adviser to President Asif Ali Zardari who had confirmed that the president’s tax returns had been submitted accordingly.
On a point of order, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Husssain presented copies of tax returns of his family and said he himself, Deputy Prime Minister Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain had also submitted their respective tax returns. He said he was ready to share the relevant documents with the media. Sabir Baloch said it was unfortunate that irresponsible statements had been made regarding the honourable president without any evidence. He asked the media to persuade their colleagues to avoid such irresponsible journalism. Senator Kamil Ali Agha also expressed shock over the media’s allegations and said journalists should have verified their information with the relevant politicians.
He said the journalists should also be asked to share their tax returns. He said it was unfortunate that irresponsible actions had been carried out.
Saeed Ghani demanded an apology, while Ishaq Dar said using words like “tax evaders” was harsh and unfortunate.
He said the senators had paid their taxes and the media did not adhere to taxation laws. Dar said if anyone wanted to do investigative journalism, he should investigate the entire matter in totality. He said no one could malign politicians and it looked like a well-conceived plan. He said he had paid over Rs 200,000 in tax and stating that he was paying Rs 32,000 in tax was false.
Dar said maligning politicians was unacceptable and such journalists were on the payroll of someone.
“Tax return is secret information. How dare the FBR chairman share my secret information? It is my private matter. Under what authority this journalist sought information from politicians. He is nobody,” he asserted.
He said the PML-N would overhaul the tax-to-GDP ratio if it came to power.
Kalsoom Perveen said the FBR chairman should be summoned and questioned why such private information had been shared with the media. She said honourable members had been termed tax evaders for no reason.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsen said media owners and journalists should be questioned how much money they had to pay to the government in terms of taxation.
Afrasiab Khattak said the matter should be taken to court and those responsible should be brought to book. He said working journalists were also targeted by the media owners and were not paid their wages. He said the matter should be taken to the Senate committee. Humayun Mandokhel said the media should not be allowed to play with the respect of political leaders and the matter should be dealt in accordance with the law. Leader of the House Jahangir Badar demanded the chair give a ruling in this regard.

Committee formed to probe Rs 7b-a-day corruption

The National Assembly was informed on Thursday that the government had constituted a committee to probe into the alleged corruption of Rs 7 billion a day in the country, as claimed in a report of the Transparency International. Responding to a point of order raised by Khawaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chief Whip Syed Khurshid Shah said the issue had been discussed threadbare in the cabinet meeting on Wednesday and a committee headed by Law Minister Farooq H Naik had been formed to examine the matter. He said the committee would invite all stakeholders to know the sources of corruption and its methods, adding that the volume of corruption reported even surpassed the country’s annual budget. Shah also invited the opposition member to be part of the meeting, adding that the report was based on perceptions as it lacked exact sources of corruption. He said the committee would on Monday invite all stakeholders, including anti-corruption departments, Supreme Court registrar, Competition Commission of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau chairman to ascertain the sources of corruption and devise a strategy in this regard. Rana Tanveer, another opposition member, said such steps should have been taken in 2009 as the government was now short of time to accomplish this gigantic task in the last four months of its tenure. He said corruption was also done between two officials or organisations for providing jobs or even awarding contracts. Shah said the committee would examine the issue from all aspects.