PTA rejects FBR’s demand to block 500,000 SIMs

Telecom regulator emphasises the need for a comprehensive assessment before implementation, citing potential adverse effects

ISLAMABAD: As telecom companies were concerned about the initiative of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has finally refused the request from FBR to deactivate approximately 500,000 SIM cards nationwide.

The FBR had urged the PTA on April 29 to block the SIMs of 506,671 individuals who had not filed their tax returns for the fiscal year 2023.

However, after closed-door discussions involving stakeholders, including major telecom operators like Jazz, Ufone, Zong 4G, and Telenor, the PTA made its stance clear on Saturday.

In a statement released, the PTA conveyed that the matter required thorough review. It highlighted concerns regarding Section 114-B of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001, which empowers the FBR to issue Income Tax General Orders (ITGO) for blocking SIMs of non-filers.

The PTA emphasised the need for a comprehensive assessment before implementation, citing potential adverse effects on societal norms and everyday life.

The telecom regulator noted that many SIMs are registered under male family members’ CNICs, impacting females and juveniles who rely on these connections for communication, education, and other essential activities.

Moreover, the telecom operators voiced apprehensions regarding the broader implications of SIM deactivation. They underscored the pivotal role of mobile connectivity beyond mere communication, encompassing banking, e-commerce, remittance, and e-health services.

Additionally, the PTA cautioned against the potential negative impact on foreign investment and the government’s digital transformation goals.

They emphasised the importance of factual verification before executing the ITGO order and proposed alternative measures, such as awareness campaigns and SMS notifications to non-filers.

The telecom operators warned against the likelihood of litigation resulting from the decision to block SIMs. They urged the FBR to explore alternative compliance methods to achieve tax filing targets while mitigating adverse consequences on citizens and the telecom sector.

Ghulam Abbas
Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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