The rollout of the Asset Declaration Scheme (ADS) – a tax amnesty scheme designed to allow undeclared assets to be documented with a nominal tax provided they are declared before June 30, 2019 – has been announced by the government and it is not surprising to see mixed reactions across the board.

From warning tax evaders of a coming reckoning to actively allowing them to whiten their money; this is a clear departure of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) commitment to throw the book at corrupt individuals in the country. Considering that the party spent years as part of the opposition lambasting previous governments for seeking to benefit the wealthy and corrupt through similar schemes, PTI’s decision to do the exact same thing in the first year of its rule tells us that the party’s promises of looking to stabilise the economy through innovative ideas was an empty one.

The fact that most experts and analysts declare amnesty schemes to be a poor policy choice to improve taxation revenues has been missed by this government and its predecessors, which is why the opposition’s outrage at this move sounds hollow and unconvincing. Leaders from both Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have spoken out against the scheme, but their own willingness to allow for tax evaders to whiten their money through similar policies during their time in government is a reminder that the stance taken currently is only a political one and hence, not relevant.

For a policy to be considered desirable enough to be repeated, the state must have demonstrable evidence of positive results on previous occasions. This tax amnesty scheme is not too different from the one implemented during the PML-N government in 2018; with only 2% of the total tax revenue in that year coming from recoverables through amnesty, why has the PTI government decided to repeat this exercise for so little gain?

One could very easily argue that this small fraction of the total tax revenue generated is not enough to outweigh the damage caused to the tax collection process in the long run. Successive governments treating tax evaders lightly time after time will only encourage more attempts to avoid paying taxes, because regular bailouts of this sort will all but ensure that the perpetrators will not be punished. With only 55000 individuals coming forward to whiten assets during the last scheme, what guarantee does the government have that this time will be any different? Increasing state revenue is important to stabilise the economy, but it will take more than a lazy idea that has failed in the past.