Provinces’ poor response spoils drive against benami properties – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The so trumpeted momentum of Pakistan's Tehreek-i-Insaf government against the Benami asset holders has received a setback in the first three months of the current year due to the lackluster response of the provinces, Dawn He has learned from reliable sources.

The deadline for obtaining information from the provinces was set on September 30, which the four provinces did not meet.

Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the provincial governments in a letter sent on August 28 to provide the data.

The government also established a General Directorate of Anti-Benami Initiative (ABI) dedicated on July 1 to treat benami's assets.

In compliance with the order of the prime minister, provincial governments are supposed to ask the deputy commissioners (DC) to identify the Benami properties in their jurisdiction. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only two DCs have identified 29 properties: 27 in Peshawar and two in Tank.

Interestingly, the remaining DCs have submitted "null" reports. From Punjab, the answer is even more pathetic since the province has sought extension on the deadline. The only DC in Punjab that has identified 25 benami properties is from Multan.

Similarly, since Sindh, only three of the 29 AD have provided "partial" data, while Balochistan has not received any response.

In the case of Punjab, a new deadline of October 31 has been given to the DC.

Prime Minister Khan ordered the main ministers of the provinces and the chief commissioner of the Islamabad Capital Territory to provide information on benami's assets by September 30, but to date information is expected from some sectors and the Information received is also incomplete.

In addition, the information received includes the word "suspicious property of benami" that has been used by the authorities without providing grounds for suspicion, evidence and especially names of real beneficiaries, which is the most critical information in cases of benami.

For the data to be relevant, these authorities have been asked to provide information in the prescribed format.

It is feared that the lack of cooperation from the provinces may hamper the momentum against the owners of Benami assets.

Data seen by Dawn shows that in the first three months of the establishment of DG ABI, only one reference has been submitted to the contracting authority.

When contacted, DG ABI, Dr. Bashirullah Khan, said management will make its own efforts to identify the Benami assets. He said that the Financial Monitoring Unit of the State Bank of Pakistan has been contacted to provide the records of suspicious financial transactions from February 2017 onwards, so that the real beneficiaries of the benami assets are investigated and tested .

According to an official source, there is some resistance against the establishment of ABI within NAB. The finance division has not yet released the necessary funds to strengthen the office to initiate total repression against benami's assets.

However, 15 new references will be submitted by the end of the current month. These references involve mega cases such as the Omni group and the Benami lands involving 7,000 kanals, the source said, adding that the value of the assets mentioned in the proposed references is around Rs20 billion.

In the case of the Omni group, there are 34 benamidars, but so far only one reference has been submitted. Three to four references are expected to be submitted later this month, the source said.

According to the source, references against some politicians have also matured after receiving information about their Benami assets. In addition, between 7,000 and 8,000 kanals will join at the end of the current month.

The source said another 40,000 kanal of Benami land are under investigation.

Benami's law establishes the right of appeal at the level of the judging authorities, federal courts, superior courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

According to a tax expert, the benami law is a new law and the most difficult aspect is the detection of benami property, names of benamidars, real beneficiaries and evidence about the linkage of the property with the real beneficiaries. Such cases can only be constructed following due process of law that involves a great deal of time, he said.

But the new Director General Dr. Bashirullah said he has a plan to make the project a success. "We will analyze all aspects of the cases before presenting any reference and with complete evidence," he said.

He said that this initiative has been seen in all areas without any element of political victimization or specific approach as promised by the Prime Minister to the nation. He said his department began to show results and in the event that this continues, ABI may require more officers to carry out the function.

The Director General said that due care has been taken to present the references to withstand the appeal test in the appeal forums.

As part of the ABI, the FBR has also established three benami zones. The Lahore area is responsible for the entire Punjab, except the Rawalpindi Civil Division. The Karachi area is responsible for Sindh and Balochistan, and the Islamabad area has received the responsibilities of Islamabad, civil division of Rawalpindi in KP. The role of these areas is to file references in the contracting authority.

Published on Dawn, October 18, 2019

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1511502/provinces-poor-response-spoils-drive-against-benami-properties

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