Government warned Zaidi’s appointment may hit legal snags

Published: May 9, 2019
Shabbar Zaidi. PHOTO: FILE

Shabbar Zaidi. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The Establishment Division is said to have cautioned the cabinet that Shabbar Zaidi’s appointment as chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) may hit legal and administrative snags.

Notwithstanding, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the Establishment Division to withdraw its summary, highly placed sources told The Express Tribune after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The premier asked Establishment Secretary Dr Ijaz Munir to furnish a fresh summary, the sources added.

The Establishment Division tabled the summary as an additional agenda item with the approval of the prime minister in his capacity as minister in-charge of the Establishment Division.

According to sources, the prime minister directed the Establishment Division to present a new summary for the appointment of Shabbar Zaidi as FBR chairman without mentioning any possible legal or administrative hitches.

When contacted, the Establishment Division secretary, however, said the summary was not withdrawn.

Shabbar Zaidi picked to head FBR

“Discussion was held. A few things were pointed out by the Law Division. It was decided to address observations of the Law Division and resubmit the summary,” he said while responding to a question.

Now, the government is expected to seek the cabinet’s nod by circulating the summary among the ministers individually, the sources added. The Establishment Division would prepare a fresh summary to appoint Zaidi as FBR chairman on an honorary basis for a period of two years.

Shabbar Zaidi, senior partner at AF Ferguson chartered accountancy firm, is a well-known tax practitioner and is considered an authority on tax laws – particularly offshore incomes and assets.

The FBR chairman cannot be appointed from the private sector without following the competitive process, according to a June 2013 judgment of the Islamabad High Court in the case of appointment of the then FBR chairman, Ali Arshad Hakeem. The court had declared Hakeem’s appointment null and void.  The Grade-22 and 21 officers of the FBR Service Groups convened a meeting at the FBR headquarters on Monday in which the taxmen discussed various options to block Zaidi’s appointment, according to FBR officials. Among the options discussed included moving the IHC against the appointment and going on strike at field formations.

SBP governor quits, FBR chairman removed

The prime minister decided to remove the incumbent FBR chairman, Jehanzeb Khan, last week but his transfer orders have not yet been issued.  The cabinet was informed that a selection committee had deliberated the name of Dr Ahmad Mujtaba Memon for the position of FBR chairman, but the committee agreed that Memon was too junior for the post.

A minister, however, told The Express Tribune that the matter had been discussed informally between Hafeez Shaikh and Dr Ishrat Husain. This is when Shaikh proposed the name of Zaidi to the selection committee, the cabinet was informed.

The committee discussed the possibility of appointing Zaidi on an honorary basis on the lines the chairmen of Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission and NAVTTC are appointed.

But the Establishment Division told the cabinet that since the IHC has barred it from appointing FBR chairman from the private sector without the competitive process, Zaidi’s appointment might create legal issues.

However, the law minister was of the view that Zaidi may be appointed on an honorary basis, according to sources.

Due to Shabbar Zaidi’s strong profile, no cabinet minister has objected to his nomination, the sources said. They said the only issue was the legal and administrative hurdles.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2019.

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