PTA and PTCL Challenge FBR Directive to Block SIMs of Tax Non-Filers, Cite Legal and Social Concerns | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

PTA and PTCL Challenge FBR Directive to Block SIMs of Tax Non-Filers, Cite Legal and Social Concerns

Pakistan Press Foundation

On May 3, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) announced its refusal to comply with the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) directive to block the mobile phone SIMs of over half a million individuals who failed to file their tax returns in 2023.

Earlier in the week, on April 30, the FBR directed the PTA and telecom companies to block the SIM cards of over half a million non-filers individuals, stating that their mobile SIMs would be blocked as part of enforcement measures. The directive was part of the Income Tax General Order (ITGO) No. 01 of 2024, which specified that these SIMs would remain blocked until they are reactivated by the FBR or the Commissioner of Inland Revenue.

PTA clarified that the execution of such an order fell outside its jurisdiction and would have no legally binding effect, citing inconsistencies with the prevailing legal framework. The authority highlighted the need to verify factual issues concerning the usage of SIMs against Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs), pointing out that procedural steps such as issuing notices by the tax collection authority were necessary before such an order could be implemented.

The PTA raised concerns over the social impact of the order, noting that the majority of SIMs were registered under male names, leading to only 27 percent being registered under female CNICs. This, the PTA argued, could potentially deprive women and children of essential communication services, particularly impacting their educational activities. Additionally, the authority expressed fears that blocking SIMs could disrupt financial transactions, including online payments and banking, which could lead to multiple issues across society.

In lieu of blocking SIMs, the PTA recommended that the FBR consider alternative methods to ensure better compliance with tax filings, such as conducting awareness campaigns. The authority also stressed the importance of a holistic review of the issue in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.

PTA has communicated to the FBR the need to review the ITGO before its enforcement and has initiated consultations with stakeholders to discuss the matter further.

Additionally, PTCL’s spokesperson said they were “diligently reviewing the instructions” and acknowledged the issue’s significance. The spokesperson emphasized protecting the interests of consumers while ensuring compliance. They said that in collaboration with PTA, they would strive for a “balanced resolution aligning with legal frameworks.”

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