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April 21, 2018

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Amnesty scheme’s success depends on SC decision

ISLAMABAD: The government’s amnesty scheme, announced on April 5, has not yet been availed by anyone as many, despite their keenness to benefit from the scheme, are unsure as to what the Supreme Court will decide in a relevant case pending before it.

The government’s amnesty scheme may come under scrutiny as the Sup­reme Court has already dropped hints of putting the money whitening plan under judicial review. “We will see the amnesty scheme,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar recently observed while hearing a case relating to encroachment of 87 kanals of government land in Faisalabad.

“We are seriously contemplating taking stern action over illegal properties and assets abroad,” the chief justice observed with a direction to the court office to fix the hearing of a suo motu case regarding holding of properties and banks accounts in foreign countries.

The government sources, when contacted on Thursday, confirmed that despite appreciation of the amnesty scheme from the business community and experts, the scheme has yet to be availed.

These sources said that there are two issues that are right now bothering those keen to avail the scheme. Firstly, what will the Supreme Court decide? Secondly, PTI chief Imran Khan’s statement that after coming into power, he would undo the scheme and initiate legal proceeding against those availing it.

Former chairman FBR and ex-secretary Revenue Dr Muhammad Irshad, however, told this correspondent that those who avail a lawful amnesty scheme could not be questioned if such a scheme was undone later. At the maximum, he said, the scheme could be discontinued by undoing the law but such an act would not have retrospective effect. Therefore, those who have already availed the amnesty scheme could not be questioned.

Haroon Akhtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Revenue, when approached, told The News that Imran Khan’s statement had a dampening effect on the scheme which, he insisted, is otherwise widely appreciated.

Akhtar said that those interested to avail the scheme are anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Supreme Court’s suo motu case on tracing and bringing back to Pakistan bank accounts and properties held abroad by citizens of Pakistan.

Haroon Akhtar said that as soon as the Supreme Court endorses the scheme or even passes a neutral order, the amnesty scheme will immediately get a massive response. The PM’s aide added that the government’s amnesty scheme is quite the replica of what the SC’s own committee had recommended.

According to Haroon Akhtar, businessmen and other interested persons are approaching the government authorities with their queries about the scheme. They have also started downloading forms to avail the scheme.

Before the launch of the scheme, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had also taken Chief Justice Saqib Nisar into confidence on this issue during their recent meeting. The prime minister had also spoken to the army chief before announcing the amnesty scheme coupled by tax reforms.

The government is hoping that the Supreme Court will endorse the scheme while deciding the suo motu notice it has taken to bring back Pakistanis' wealth from abroad. The government’s confidence is based on the fact that the amnesty scheme it had announced is greatly based on the recommendations given by a high-level official committee, which was constituted by the Chief Justice of Pakistan on the issue of tracing and bringing back Pakistanis’ wealth held abroad.

In its report submitted before the Supreme Court in the suo motu case on the subject, the committee had unanimously concluded that the present environment is “most conducive for a voluntary disclosure scheme to Pakistani citizens to declare and repatriate their assets held abroad”.

The committee had also recommended that the existing and prospective measures to trace foreign assets of Pakistani citizens like OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) multilateral conventions should be widely publicised to convince citizens that if foreign assets are not declared through this one-time window opportunity, there is high probability that those assets will be traced exposing such persons to huge penalties and prosecution.

The committee, which submitted this report, was headed by Governor SBP Tariq Bajwa and comprised members including Secretary Finance Arif Ahmed Khan, Chairman FBR Tariq Pasha, DG FIA Bashir Memon, Deputy Chairman NAB M Imtiaz Tajwar, Chairman SECP Zafar Abdullah, Special Secretary Foreign Ministry Shah M Jamal and Director IB Abdul Nasr Shuja.

In the formulation of the report, the committee had consulted different stakeholders including Bashir Ali Muhammad of Gul Ahmed Textiles Mills Ltd, Arif Habib of Arif Habib Group, Dr Ikramul Haq from Huzaima and Ikram, Mehmood Mandviwalla and Ali Zafar from Mandviwalla and Zafar, Syed Shabbar Zaidi from AF Ferguson and Co, Syed Mazhar Ali Nasir from FPCCI, Siraj Kassan Teli and Abdul Basit from Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Malik Tahir Javaid from Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Asim Zulfiqar and Rashid Ibrahim from AF Ferguson & Co, Masoodul Hassan Naqvi and Ashfaq Tola from Tax Reforms Commission.

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