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Benami Transactions Bill 2016 What is it worth in Pakistan

Benami Transactions Bill 2016: What is it worth in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tabled the ‘Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2016’ in the National Assembly (NA), meant to enact a law that prevents the incidence of benami assets and accounts to curb the black money and tax evasions.

The bill aims at stopping black money especially in the real estate sector. It also targets transactions that are made in names other than those of the owners, to hide the incidence of tax evasion and black money.

The government has explained through the Bill that benami was causing concerns among tax authorities and that the transactions have long been used in criminal proceeds.

According to the bill, tax evasion and terror-financing are the main crimes perpetrated through benami assets.

Under NAB Ordinance, 1999, a benamidar means any person who ostensibly holds or is in possession or custody of any property of an accused on his behalf for the benefit of the accused.

It seeks punishment to any person who enters into a benami transaction through an adjudicating authority and appellate tribunal for imposing fines, imprisonment and confiscation. However, close family members like spouse, brother or sister would not be punishable in case they provide cover to the actual owner of assets and transactions.

Despite all this, the law is not going to stop benami holdings and black money through illegal deals and tax evasion.

The Indian benami prohibition law is two decades old, but in Pakistan, the law is set to come after criminal acts became rampant through the trend of benami use of such assets.

The first question arising here is how many people have been proceeded against under the NAB Ordinance for holding the benami assets and transactions?

Secondly, would there be exemptions to this law in practice?

It has been widely observed that certain influential sections of the population, holding authority and taking cover of the institutions which are not accountable or are hard to make accountable are normally not reported against for benami holdings and transactions.

Is the Benami law also intended to bring into the orbit of questionable holdings and transactions persons that take cover of such institutions?

A law is source of legal authority that is exercised across the board. If it is exercised only selectively, the law loses its worth, as many laws, even constitutional provisions, in Pakistan stand worthless. Recent episodes have exposed the worthlessness of the law and the courts in concluding cases against the powerful.

It is not just the law that would ensure across-the-board investigation into the benami holdings and transactions and conclusive proceedings against the accused. A bold and incorruptible judiciary and an unflinching Parliament is required to make fair investigation and punishment possible.

It is public knowledge in Pakistan that those taking cover of institutional sanctity and their authority in such institutions made heaps of money in shady deals involving the public money and through tax evasion, but their assets could not be questioned by the Parliament and the judiciary.

One can draw up a long list of illegal assets of officials, serving and the retired, especially in the institutions that can defy all authority of judiciary and the Parliament.

Every soul in this country knows that such officials cannot be touched even if their assets are ascertainable.

The anti-benami law would not be enough to make them accountable. This law needs supporting arms in the judiciary and parliament to deal with such elements with the same force which was attained by the military courts created for dealing with the organizers and facilitators of terrorism.

As Pakistan slides into chaos and becomes unmanageable, it is becoming public knowledge that there are three sources of making illegal money and keeping it off the accountability channels: the authority to stay unaccountable; tax evasion, and the capacity to keep benami assets that cannot be probed.

No authority would be able to investigate the benami holdings and transactions until it is ensured that there is no section of the powerful using the powers of the state that stay unaccountable and whose assets cannot be investigated.

The new law needs supporting arms of guarantees for the investigation into assets of the powerful—guarantees that the investigators would be protected against the arrogant forces in authority; that they would be authorised to operate under a special court the powers of which cannot be challenged by any court, including the Supreme Court and the parliament; their findings are to be made public under the law and the Federal Board of Revenue is bound to reveal the comparison between the benami assets so exposed and the tax amounts paid by the benami holder (s); the investigators are allowed to exercise unquestionable authority to uncover and probe the benami assets.

None of this is presently available to investigators that are meant to put the new law into action.

The writer has worked with major newspapers and specialises in the analysis of public finance and geo-economics of terrorism.

Courtesy : Express Tribune



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