Benami Act and Political Victimization

A couple of days ago, Federal Board of Revenue announced a clamp down against Benami or unidentified Properties –under Benami Act- across the country. This action was widely hailed by the masses and was termed ‘better late than never’. It also showed the intent of the current government [Unlike previous regimes] to not come up with a new Amnesty Scheme for Tax evaders in future. Many Media Analysts claimed ‘Government means business this time’.  This commencement of campaign followed an [extended] Amnesty Scheme by the current Government which provided an opportunity to the people (concealing their properties from their Income Tax Returns) to declare their undeclared properties against a very less percentage of taxes. A little over 120,000 people declared their assets under this scheme which also generated a whopping amount of tax stream for FBR.

The joint Opposition cried foul and called the timing of this action dubious (when opposition was setting into gear the country wide protests) and a tool to Political Victimization by the current Government. This claim of opposition cannot be brushed aside outright without a grain of suspicion. Such anticipations of fears and censuring have a history in Pakistan’s Politics. Millennials who actively followed the 1990s politics would suspect the current crack-down as a mere tool to strengthen the rule of the Government. It could be a feeling of deja-vu for them. Many such incidents occurred in the 1990s when myriad of laws were promulgated [in the name of accountability] to abate the growing influence of the Opposition parties.  It could be no coincidence that the first institution of case under Benami Act turns out to be against a PMLN stalwart. Such accounts create mistrust when the current Government machinery is already accused of meddling with the corruption cases against the opposition members initiated by National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Even if the accounts given by the Government spokespersons that these cases were initiated in the previous regime are accepted in entirety, the manipulation with the timings of arrests cannot be ruled out. Arrests of Opposition heavy weights just days before their scheduled protests against the Government perplexed even the neutral journalists. It was feared that the Government nudged investigation teams towards the policy of go-faster on such cases.

The current institution of clamp down will produce the desired results if done without any prejudice. Sans objectivity and impartiality, this initiative will also not be up to snuff like many preceding action plans against Benami Properties. The Prime Minister also needs to abstain to giving provocative remarks that take Opposition’s breath away. His recent statement ‘the current Opposition also made cases against him during their government days’ gives indication of his policy of ‘Quid Pro Quo’. PM and his cronies must realize by keep revisiting the past, they won’t reach anywhere. The baggage of past is too heavy to carry while building a ‘New Pakistan’. However, If this action is transformed into a concentrated and calibrated effort and implemented against all offenders under Benami Act irrespective of Party affiliations, only then ‘raison d’etre’ of this scheme will be consummated.

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