A senior ruling party lawmaker yesterday called for targeting tax dodgers instead of relying on indirect taxes like value-added taxes to meet the country's rising spending needs.
“Why should only 12 lakh people pay taxes in a country of 16 crore? The number of taxpayers under the direct tax network should be at least 2 crore,” said Md Ali Ashraf, president of the parliamentary standing committee on commerce.
There are many people at the upazila level who own crores of taka and should come under the direct tax network.
The four-time lawmaker spoke at a discussion on the budget, jointly organised by SUPRO (Sushashoner Jonno Procharavizan), a civil society network, and Oxfam at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
There are 18 lakh taxpayer identification numbers in the country, but of them, 12 lakh pay tax, according to the government—a number SUPRO does not agree with.
Ashraf said he does not think the number of people paying Tk 1 crore as income tax should not be just 50, as it stands now, but at least 50,000, a figure suggested by the Bangladesh Economic Association in its budget analysis earlier this week.
The lawmaker then went on to cite examples of tax dodging.
“For the last 35 years, I have been the chairman of the election committee of the FBCCI [Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry]. While looking at tax files of the candidates, I would be baffled to see businessmen paying meagre income taxes, although they own several houses in areas like Gulshan and drive Mercedes.”
He also said the bureaucracy has to be strengthened in order to implement the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
“The quality of bureaucrats has deteriorated—it is a bad sign.” Mostafizur Rahman, primary and mass education minister, said the government is failing in its efforts to clamp down on mighty tax dodgers.
“Who dodges tax? The people who can control both the ruling and opposition parties. The public are not able to establish control over them.”
He said the Awami League, BNP or their allies never debate over cutting the hefty non-development expenditure. “The non-development budget has come to this stage for those who are evading the taxes and the people who are helping them evade tax.”
The government plan to award a new payscale to public servants also drew criticism from the minister.
“BNP may even say that if they come to power they will provide two payscales to government employees, even if they are not mentioned in the election manifesto. The perception is they [the government officials] bring us to power—all problems lie here.”
He said he does not think the government takes up any project for any bad intention.
“If the reliance on the implementers deepens in the project execution stage, then you will not get the desired results.”
Abdul Mannan, a former state minister, said irrespective of parties in power, the budget should be pro-people and coordinated, while lamenting the cut in allocation for agriculture sector.
“What a pity! This is the sector where we should provide more allocation.”
Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, chairman of Unnayan Onneshan, a research organisation, said the finance minister should have imposed inheritance tax to boost collection, as the value of property has skyrocketed in the country. He criticised the social safety net projects, saying the state has taken up those programmes in order to purposefully exclude some people.
“If the allocations under the safety net programmes are added together and distributed among all the poor people, there will be no poverty in the country.”
During the discussion, SUPRO said the allocation for sectors such as health and education are inadequate and should be increased before the budget is passed.
“The allocation for the primary education has gone up in numbers but has actually gone down in terms of size of the budget. This may pose a challenge to achieving Millennium Development Goal on quality education.”
“Likewise, it will be tough to ensure health care for the poor with the allocation for the health sector.”
It demanded implementation of the district budget for the six new districts in the upcoming fiscal year the way the government did in case of Tangail in the outgoing fiscal year. The organisation also urged the government to bring in the required structural reforms and ensure public participation in the process.
“However, we are upset, as the district budget was not prepared on the basis of the grassroot recommendations,” said Shakera Nahar, campaign coordinator of SUPRO, while presenting the budget analysis by the organisation.
She said the budget for tackling climate change is not consistent with the needs of different regions. “If not properly implemented, women also will not benefit from the gender budget.”
SUPRO is a national network of grassroot NGOs, working to establish economic, social and cultural rights of the poor and marginalised by facilitating rights-based activism at the grassroot, national and global level.
MA Quader, executive committee member of SUPRO, presided over the discussion, which was also attended by district level officials of the organisation.