Pakistan’s overall tax-to-GDP ratio has been hovering around 10 per cent for the past decade, which is approximately five per cent lower than the average of comparable economies. Despite a large tax base available in all provinces, they collectively contribute only seven per cent in overall revenues.
Federal revenues are low, and government coffers are emptied by debt servicing, high defense spending, and power subsidies, resulting in government institutions without adequate budgets to operate. Without tax reform, Pakistan’s civilian government and its ability to govern remains weak and ineffective. Moreover, Pakistan remains on the brink financial crisis.
Since the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2010 aimed at rolling back the excessive power the central government had built up over years of military rule, the provincial administrations have been entrusted with greater revenue mobilization responsibilities. The amendment was intended to bring education, health, and other basic government services closer to the people and help develop areas that were historically ignored by Islamabad, and was viewed as an important first step in a series of reforms to create a responsive and accountable democratic Pakistan.
However, empowering provinces without the proper mechanisms in place for implementation, and conflict resolution, and without strengthening revenue raising capability at the provincial level, has resulted in greater duplication of bureaucratic structures and processes at central and provincial levels, leading to more wasteful spending and higher budget deficits. Moreover, government services that are now to be provided by the provincial governments are often not provided at all, as provincial governments themselves appear confused or reluctant to take on service delivery and financial responsibilities.