By just tinkering with tax rates here and there and imposing new regressive taxes in the form of regulatory duty, the present government has confirmed that it has no pragmatic plan to fix the ailing economy. The key issue is dismantling of the present tax system that is the main impediment in achieving productivity and efficiency. Nobody is inclined to discuss it seriously. The continuous fiscal and current account deficits have stalled Pakistan’s economic takeoff, forcing the country to rely more and more on external and internal borrowings. The government has admitted this fact in official publications and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has repeatedly warned about it in its periodic State of Economy Reports.Since assuming portfolios of finance and revenue in 2013, Ishaq Dar has been presenting fudged figures to show ‘extraordinary’ (sic) revenue collection and relying on surpluses of the provinces for keeping fiscal deficit at 5 per cent of the GDP. The reality is before everybody now — fiscal, trade and current account deficits are worrisome by all standards. The biggest failure of Dar is non-realisation of the real tax potential of which is not less than Rs. 8 trillion. Ishaq Dar, presently indicted by accountability court, paid no heed to proposals given by experts for reducing fiscal and trade deficits, reducing cost of doing business, increasing exports and reducing imports of unnecessary items, taxing citizens according to their ability to pay, rather than continuing with regressive indirect taxes, even under income tax law in the form of presumptive and minimum tax regimes.The real malady faced by Pakistan is open and blatant non-compliance of tax laws by the powerful segments of society and existence of a large un-taxed economy. Since the Sharifs have been the principal beneficiaries of erratic laws like Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, they avoided corrective actions for streamlining the regressive tax system. Before coming to power, both Nawaz and Shahbaz were highly critical of the economic policies of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), especially where it sought external loans and foreign aids. But self-declared Khadim-e-Aala as early as on June 10, 2013 requested international monetary institutions and donor agencies to extend maximum cooperation to find a solution to energy crisis, population control and development of health and other sectors. Dar has been begging before those whom his leader used to blame ‘or all our ills’ in election speeches.Our rulers live lavishly while Pakistan ranks at 147 out of 187 countries in the latest Human Development Index (HDI). Not less than 25 million children remain out of school in Pakistan in gross violation of Article 25A of the ConstitutionMaking hollow promises to the people of ‘wonders’ and ‘great achievements’ for them are merely electoral compulsions of all political parties. In practice, the leaders of these parties are owners of huge assets and politics becomes their necessity in order to protect and promote their financial interests. Our economy is that of elites. It serves the interests of the privileged classes. The ultra rich, representing about 1 per cent of the entire population, own 95 percent of national resources. They exploit labour of landless tillers, poor urban workers and white-collared employees to amass more and more wealth. Additionally, they create artificial hike in prices of essential items to snatch back whatever little is earned or saved by the 99 per cent ordinary people.Our rulers live lavishly while Pakistan ranks at 147 out of 187 countries in the latest Human Development Index (HDI). Not less than 25 million children out of school in Pakistan in gross violation of Article 25A of the Constitution — see detailed judgement of Supreme Court 2014 SCMR 396 re Petition regarding miserable conditions of schools. There is appalling apathy on the part of the elected towards the masses voting them into power, with the hope that they would do something for their socio-economic uplifting or at least providing them basic essential services — housing, transport, education and health, to say the least. People in Parliament are least bothered about the impact of regressive taxation on the poorest of the poor in this land of the pure.Reliance on indirect taxes that constitute 70 per cent of total collection proves beyond any doubt that the tax system is emphatically contributing to rising poverty as people who earn enormous income and possess immense wealth are not being subjected to income taxation in Pakistan. Since long, Pakistan has been facing a variety of crises specifically in areas of: resources for its developmental policies, meeting trade deficits, fiscal deficits and balance of payments, in addition to numerous others. One of the factors responsible for the present situation is mafia-like operations at government level helping the people to avoid tax on incomes — the most apt example is that of section 111(4) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 that is permanent amnesty scheme for tax evaders. Through the infamous system of SROs [Statutory Regulator Orders], FBR’s top officials provide ‘legal’ ways and means to the mighty and influential sections of the society to amass huge wealth that helps them capture power.The existing tax system protects the interests of the elites and exploitative elements that have monopoly over economic resources. Pakistan has about 90 million unique mobile users who pay both income tax and sales tax but even less than 1.5 million file income tax returns. Majority of mobile users do not earn taxable income (Rs 400,000) yet they are burdened with undue liability. On the contrary, many rich people just pay a fraction of income tax (withheld at source) on their collossal incomes without bothering to file returns.We can easily collect Rs. 8 trillion to eliminate fiscal deficit — see details in Towards Flat, Low-rate, Broad and Predictable Taxes, Islamabad: PRIME Institute, April 2016. Unless we do so the economic mess will persist.Since the elite is not ready to pay their due taxes and government lacks the will to come down heavily on them, there is no point in just crying over unsatisfactory figures. The figures are important but these are symptoms of illness and not the cause of the real malady. We need to uproot the cause(s) of the illness and not keep on complaining and/or fixing the symptoms. The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @drikramulhaqPublished in Daily Times, October 22nd 2017.