As many as 315 incumbent lawmakers have imported duty-free cars depriving the state exchequer of more than Tk 1,000 crore in taxes, according to a list placed in parliament yesterday.
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This is not the first time. Without paying Tk 280 crore in taxes, 275 lawmakers of the last Jatiya Sangsad imported luxury vehicles.
The list placed by Finance Minister AMA Muhith says more than 200 MPs of the ninth Jatiya Sangsad have imported Toyota Land Cruisers. Over 18 MPs have bought Voxwagons while the rest various other brands.
As per the list, so far each of 70 MPs has enjoyed tax exemptions of over Tk 5 crore, 55 lawmakers over Tk 4 lakh each and 16 MPs over Tk 6 crore each to import duty-free cars.
Also, 54 MPs got tax exemption of more than Tk 3 crore, 90 MPs more than Tk 2 crore each and each of around 60 MPs got tax exemption of Tk 1 crore.
However, at least 35 MPs have not used the facility. They include Leader of the House Sheikh Hasina, Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia, Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, Commerce Minister GM Quader, Social Welfare Minister Enamul Haque Mostafa Shahid and Civil Aviation Minister Farukh Khan.
Ruling AL MP Golam Gazi Dastagir of Narayanganj-1 made the most of the benefit. He has imported a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser jeep spending only Tk 79.22 lakh as he did not have to pay tax and duty of Tk 6.66 crore.
AL MP Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun of Narsingdi-4 stood second in the race as he imported a brand new Toyota land cruiser jeep at Tk 78.79 lakh excluding tax and duty of Tk 6.54 crore.
Speaker Abdul Hamid is no exception. He bought a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser spending Tk 75.45 lakh after exemption of Tk 6.32 crore in duty and tax.
Jatiya Party MPs -- Ruhul Amin Hawlader and his wife Nasrin Jahan Ratna -- have imported two brand new Toyota Land Cruisers. Each of them paid Tk 59.44 lakh, depriving the state exchequer of Tk 4.93 crore in taxes.
The couple has enjoyed much more financial benefits than their party chief HM Ershad and his wife did. Ershad has imported a Toyota Land Cruiser with Tk 72.61 lakh and he has not paid duty and tax of Tk 5.02 crore. His wife Rawshan Ershad bought a Land Cruiser Prado at Tk 45.73 lakh and she enjoyed tax exemption of Tk 2.03 crore.
Lawmakers of the main opposition BNP have also gone on the buying spree.
BNP MP ABM Ashrafuddin of Laxmipur-4 imported a car spending Tk 61.70 lakh, free of Tk 5.12 crore in tax. Harunur Rashid of Chandpur-4 enjoyed duty exemption of Tk 5.11 crore by importing a car at Tk 62.33 lakh. Rumana Mahmud, another opposition lawmaker, imported a vehicle spending Tk 61.63 lakh without paying Tk 5.11 crore in duty.
AL MP Ruby Rahman, widow of Gonotanri Party leader Nurul Islam, who was burnt to death ahead of the December 29, 2008 parliamentary polls, got the lowest tax exemption as she imported a jeep spending Tk 21.46 lakh which excludes taxes of Tk 45.79 lakh.
Shahiduzzaman Sarker, the ruling party MP who yesterday in parliament questioned which lawmakers imported duty-free cars, imported a jeep spending Tk 23.54 lakh getting a tax exemption of Tk 1.04 crore.
Import of duty-free cars has always been controversial. The facility has been abused since the provision was introduced during HM Ershad's rule to give MPs undue benefits to make them happy and ensure their loyalty to the regime.
Since the restoration of parliamentary form of government after the fall of Ershad in 1990, MPs in all parliaments since 1991 have been enjoying the benefit of importing vehicles without paying customs duty, sales tax, development surcharge and import permit fees.
Many legislators of the eighth parliament sold their luxury cars -- BMW, Cadillac and Porsche -- though the laws did not permit so within three years of purchase.
For personal use, they preferred inexpensive and cheap-to-run cars. The army-led joint forces seized a number of those luxury cars from businessmen during the past emergency regime. And in the wake of gross abuse, the provision was scrapped during the past caretaker government's tenure through an ordinance promulgated by the president in 2007.
But the current parliament did not ratify the ordinance. It restored the provision in April 2010 to allow MPs to import vehicles free of duty.
A new provision was inserted in the law to provide each MP with transport allowance of Tk 40 thousand per month. And, interestingly, the provision also allows the prime minister, speaker, deputy speaker, ministers, state ministers, deputy ministers, chief whips and whips to enjoy the benefit.