The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has, for the fifth time, published and made available the tax directory of parliamentarians for the tax year 2018.

There is a lot to unpack with the new directory. First and foremost, it must be asked why the tax returns from two years ago are being announced now. Seven years have passed since the first tax directory, yet we have seen only five of these so far. The tax directory was launched with the objective to increase transparency in tax governance in order to ensure an efficient, fair and sustainable tax system which, in turn, is critical for better economic management. Public access to information is a key part of this transparency, to keep parliamentarians in check and to show no-one is above the law. Delays of the tax directory completely undermine the purpose for which the directory was made—parliamentarians could easily evade responsibility by promising that the tax returns for the next year were much higher—the longer the time passes between tax returns and results, the less transparency there is, and the more the likelihood is that parliamentarians not paying tax can evade responsibility. The PTI government needs to give a cogent answer for why it released the returns after a delay of almost one and a half years.

It is true that tax collection did see a boost in 2018. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was the highest tax-paying lawmaker of 2018 as he paid Rs241.3 million in income tax, 8,000 percent higher than the previous year and also equal to 30 percent of the total taxes paid by all members of parliament. The tax payment by Prime Minister Imran Khan surged by 172 percent to Rs282,449. Yet while there has been an increase, the result still does not exceed expectations. There are still quite a number of parliamentarians who are either paying very little tax, or not at all. Amongst the zero taxpayers include five ministers in government.

If the government is serious about increasing tax revenue, it needs to uphold accountability of those in its own party who are evading tax. It also needs to ensure that tax returns are released on time—not years later.