The Federal Bureau of Revenue’s (FBR) revenue collection recorded a growth of over 30 percent in the first 15 days of the 2017-18 fiscal year – a rise that has surprised most officials. With most senior government fiscal authorities and key ministries busy in responding to the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) Panama papers investigation, the general perception was that normal government operations will take a backseat. However, increased revenue collection and a new investigation launched by FBR’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML) cell into money transferred as “gifts” by wealthy individuals to avoid taxation indicates that instead of slowing the fiscal authorities down, the Panama papers distraction has given them new impetus.

This seems to be the case when one looks at the AML investigation into money laundering disguised as “gifts”. Like the use of offshore companies, transferring large sums of money as gifts – which are not taxable – is one of those fiscal practices that occupies the grey area between criminal tax evasion and legal reduction of tax obligations. More importantly, both are central to the JIT investigation into the Sharif family business and a renewed interest in these practices seems to imply that the FBR is taking its cues from the investigation.

It is certainly commendable that the FBR is pursuing tax evasion at the highest levels and is surpassing revenue collections targets, but we must be cautious before reading too much into these developments. While most FBR officials attribute the growth the revenue collection to better and stringent collection practices, it must be remembered that advance revenue collected from the last fiscal year is adjusted to the first few months of the next fiscal year, which presents a false picture of actual organic revenue collection.

Similarly, past investigations launched by FBR into the vast numbers of politicians and businessmen whose names have surfaced in the Panama papers seems to have stalled as well. Only the Prime Minister is under scrutiny for financial impropriety when the scrutiny should have fallen on every public official with an offshore company who could be prima facie suspected of tax evasion. If any cues had to be taken from the whole Panama papers episode it had to be this.

The FBR claims that it is not distracted by the JIT proceedings but its failure to investigate other potential tax evaders is a problem. It is hoped that the body can finally exit from the shadow cast by the investigation, and probe the larger problems of tax evasion nationwide.