‘Harsh’ taxation measures: Traders stage sit-in outside FBR HQs

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ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented expression of anger and frustration, a large number of traders from across the country on Wednesday, reached the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Headquarters and staged a protest sit-in against what they called “harsh taxation measures” against the retailers and shopkeepers under the Tax Laws (Third) Amendment Ordinance 2021.

They announced in emphatic terms to continue their protest sit-in till their demands were met.

Traders are demanding an end to presidential ordinance that they have termed as a “black law”; end to sales tax registration and POS integration; and promulgation of a new ordinance to end corruption within the tax machinery.

The protesting traders have arrived in large numbers from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, various parts of Punjab, and from as far as the commercial hub of the country, Karachi.

The protesters continued their sit-in and representatives and leaders of various traders’ associations lambasted the government and the FBR for their taxation policies.

Hundreds of traders reached the FBR headquarters holding placards in their hands inscribed with slogans against the FBR and the taxation measures, demanding withdrawal of the Tax Laws (Third) Amendment Ordinance, 2021.

Before reaching the FBR headquarters, minor clashes were also reported with policemen at various check posts as the protesters made their way towards the FBR Headquarters.

The FBR’s administration had issued specific instructions advising total ban on visitors to the headquarters as a precautionary measure.

The FBR’s security team closed the main gate before the protesters could reach it and security staff and local police were deployed at the entry/exit gates of the FBR Headquarters.

However, the staff/employees of the Board were allowed to leave the office through the back gate, which remained open till late Wednesday night.

Officials in the FBR asserted that the scheduled meetings at the FBR for Thursday are unlikely to be held due to the prevailing situation at the premises.

The officials feared that September 30 is the last date for return filing and may hamper Operations Wing of the FBR to smoothly work at the Headquarters, on Thursday (today).

Apparently, the government is in a fix after traders from across the country reached outside the FBR headquarters and staged a sit in against the Tax Laws (Third) Amendment Ordinance and announced to besiege the Board till their demands are met.

All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran (APAT) sought a presidential ordinance to “end corruption” in the FBR and rejected Point of Sales (PoS) integration with the board’s system.

“We will continue our protest till an ordinance is passed to end corruption in the FBR,” the traders said, who marched towards the FBR under traders’ leader, Ajmal Baloch.

The traders said it was crucial to nullify the “black laws” imposed through a presidential ordinance, which, according to the government, has been imposed to broaden the tax base.

The government seeks to impose withholding tax through electricity bills on professionals undertaking their assignments from home.

It also seeks for traders to be integrated with the FBR through the installation of PoS devices.

In his speech, All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran (APAT) Chairman Ajmal Baloch threatened that the protest would be followed by complete shutter down of shops across Pakistan.

It is very unfortunate that the FBR is not ready to listen to the ground realities of the traders and started forced sales tax registration process.

He said that presently, the traders are receiving two kinds of notices across the country. First, the notices are related to the sales tax registration.

Second, notices for registration with the Point of Sale (POS) system of the FBR.

The discretionary powers of the FBR to register anyone with the POS system are totally unjustified.

The trader community has rejected the harsh provisions of the Tax Laws (Third Amendment) Ordinance 2021.

The documentation measures introduced through the presidential ordinance are complicated and it will result in increased penalties on the traders and retailers.

The protest is against the harsh tax policies and complicated and double documentation, which would increase tax evasion and corruption in the country, Baloch added.

Additionally, with the promulgation of The Tax Laws (Third Amendments) Ordinance 2021 for broadening of the tax base on September 17, the government has granted sweeping powers to the FBR for disconnection of mobile phones SIMs, electricity, and gas connection of non-filers.

“The government has also given powers to the FBR to discontinue gas and electricity connections of persons, including tier-1 retailers who are either not registered or if registered, they are not integrated in terms of Section 3(9A) of the Sales Tax Act 1990” a trader representative said.

The FBR has clarified that “the Point of Sale (POS) integration with the FBR, sales tax registration, and imposition of enhanced withholding tax have nothing to do with small traders”.

It further said that the enhanced withholding tax slapped through the presidential ordinance and collected through electricity bills will not be applicable to commercial consumers.

However, the protesting traders demanded that all the powers granted to the FBR through the ordinance be withdrawn.

They further said they would not, at any cost, allow the installation of POS devices and that they have rejected the registration of traders for sales tax.

“The powers granted to FBR through the ordinance should be taken back […] traders are not educated; therefore, they should not be spoken to in technical terms,” the traders demanded. On last Sunday (September 26), Markazi Tanzeem Tajiran, representing small traders had postponed their protest call after the FBR and small traders reached an agreement on the Tax Laws (Third Amendment) Ordinance-2021 at the FBR Headquarters.

However, the APAT categorically stated that they were not a part of the so-called agreement that was reached with the FBR.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021