Most Pakistani lawmakers failed to file tax return

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Fewer than a third of Pakistan’s members of Parliament file annual tax returns, according to a report published Wednesday, lending new focus to longstanding complaints from foreign donors and ordinary Pakistanis about tax evasion at the highest levels of society.

The report, jointly published by two civil society organizations, found that just 126 of the country’s 446 federal lawmakers filed annual income tax returns in 2011. Among those who did not file a return was President Asif Ali Zardari.

The report does not take into account the tax paid by politicians on their parliamentary salaries, which is automatically deducted by the government. Instead, it focuses on the lawmakers’ declarations of supplemental income from property, professional practices, and other sources of revenue.


Nevertheless, in a nation where many politicians enjoy lifestyles that far exceed their official salaries, the report raises fresh questions about the dedication of Pakistan’s top lawmakers to enforcing the tax laws they oversee.

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‘‘Tax evasion has become a social norm in our country,’’ said Umar Cheema, an investigative journalist who compiled the report for the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives and the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan. ‘‘People don’t consider it a crime. But this tax demand established a bond between the people and the state. That’s how you become a stakeholder in society.’’

Of the country’s 180 million people, only 2 percent are ­registered to pay tax, and fewer than a quarter of those actually do so according to the report. Income tax evasion is particularly high among the wealthiest Pakistanis.