The lack of response from the provinces has resulted in a setback to the government’s drive against benami asset holders within the country. Despite Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan setting a deadline of September 3oth, provinces have failed to produce satisfactory results. This drive against such assets is very important in streamlining the banking sector of Pakistan and also bringing people within the tax net. The next four months are very crucial for Pakistan, especially if we view this from the perspective of both the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the clauses set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The problems being faced at this point are more bureaucratic in nature. There is resentment against the establishment of the Anti-Benami Initiative (ABI) within the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The finance division of NAB has still not released sufficient funds for the body to take full course against benami asset holders. This is prompting the ABI to take action on its own and they have asked the Financial Monitoring Unit of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to provide records of suspicious financial transactions from February 2017. The lack of coordination between government departments should be streamlined because, without cooperation, the goal of transparency cannot be achieved.

Provincial governments along with District Commissioners (DCs) should also be penalised for not submitting reports at the due time. A proper mechanism should be established for crosschecking data regarding benami assets. There are also reports of statistics submitted which show suspicion of benami properties but do not identify the basis for these suspicions. These loopholes in investigation need to be identified and overcome in order to gain satisfactory results. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only two DCs have identified 29 properties — 27 in Peshawar and two in Tank. From Punjab, the response is even more pathetic as the province has sought extension in the deadline. The only DC from Punjab who has identified 25 benami properties is from Multan. Similarly from Sindh, only three of the 29 DCs have provided ‘partial’ data while no response has been received from Balochistan.

The government needs to establish a new deadline taking into account all the issues that are being faced at the moment, and also establish a feedback mechanism to improve the coordination between government departments.