Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has remarked that national matters should be run per the law and constitution and the country could not afford any wrong decision anymore.
He gave the remarks while presiding over a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) during the course of hearing of suo motu notice case on imposition of general sales tax (GST) on Wednesday.
The attorney general (AG) presented government’s directive with reference to imposition of sales tax on petroleum products.
The CJP said, “The country’s affairs should be run per law and constitution. The country cannot afford any wrong decision now. What will be the need for constitution if the government enhances sales tax through a declaration? Judges and parliament together have to protect the rights of the people. We have to improve our constitution. For how will long will we continue to adhere to laws enacted by the British. People ask their elected representatives why the government is increasing the sales tax which is not allowed by the constitution. We cannot allow such steps to be taken.”
The AG said, “This law is in force since 1931 and under this law, the government is authorized to levy, increase or decrease any tax. Under this law, tax stands imposed forthwith and its implementation is not subject to approval of finance bill.”
The CJP said, “If this law is not in clash with the fundamental rights enshrined in law and constitution. When assemblies and constitution are in place, why is there a need not being felt to explain this law. We are not living in 1931. A new wave of inflation has swept the country with the imposition of GST. Billions of rupees are going out of the pockets of consumers. Colonial system is not functioning now. We have our own independent society. How can we shift the burden to the pockets of people according to laws enacted by the British.”
The CJP remarked, “The bench is unable to understand how tax can be imposed through a declaration when the finance bill is yet to be approved. Presidential ordinance can be promulgated for temporary legislation.”
He added that the government was running under constitution. “How can slapping such a tax be allowed? Tax has been imposed on food products. Tax has been levied on life-saving drugs. Where should the people go? The common man is paying the tax charged on non-registered petrol pumps. You have caused loss to the common man. Ninety percent of petrol pumps are not registered.”
The CJP added that if “you go to the market you will find price of every commodity raised”.
“Give in writing that non-registered shopkeepers and businessmen are not charging this tax. Please go, conduct a survey in the market and bring the results to us. Tax cannot be levied without legislation or act of parliament. Ordinance can also be promulgated in this respect. Constitution says tax be slapped but the constitutional formalities be fulfilled on this count. Constitutional clauses cannot be covered through declaration.”
The court was told that the practice was on since 2007.
The chief justice then said it was a wrong step even if it was being pursued since 1998 and it should have been stopped.
He remarked that governments could not run without taxes but there should be no injustice to the people. Tax recovery should be made per law.
The AG said the law of 1931 was also an act of parliament and it enjoyed constitutional protection. “GST is not applicable to food products and medicines. The Finance Ministry has directed FBR to issue a clarification. All tax officers have been issued directives to exercise strict monitoring,” the AG added.
The CJP said anything aimed at benefiting the businessman would not work, “but talks about protecting the state will work”.
“We cannot allow the state to create problems for the common man or cause any harm to him. If the parliament says it has imposed 16 or 17 percent tax, how can you recover 26 percent taxes?”
The proceedings were later adjourned until today (Thursday).