PM makes more changes in his economic team

Removes PM’s aide on finance Dr Waqar, FBR Chairman Asim Ahmad

Shahbaz Rana August 25, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan responds to the questions of the citizens in a live session on April 4, 2021. SCREENGRAB


In an anticipated move, the government on Tuesday made yet another change in its core economic team by giving an exit to Dr Waqar Masood Khan, an aide to the prime minister on finance, and also removed Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Asim Ahmad.

Dr Mohammad Ashfaq Ahmad, a Grade 21 officer of the Inland Revenue Service, has been made the new FBR chairman –the seventh by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan in three years.

On an average, each chairperson remained just five months and 15 days in office.

There are also chances that Finance Secretary Yousaf Khan could also be transferred, the sources said. Yousaf Khan had been brought in by Dr Waqar. Some other changes in the Finance Division and FBR are also expected.

Dr Waqar, who remained in office for less than 10 months, opted to bow out after he could not develop sustainable working relationship with Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin despite taking a good start four months ago, sources told The Express Tribune.

Dr Waqar has resigned as special assistant to the PM on finance and revenue, sources close to him confirmed. They said that the premier has accepted the resignation.

Dr Waqar, a veteran bureaucrat, had been brought in the PM’s economic team in October last year. He had promised the prime minister to broaden the tax base and increase the tax collection –the two objectives that largely remained unfulfilled.

The government removed the FBR chairman for his mishandling the most successful cyberattack on the country’s biggest data centre, from which the FBR still could not fully recover even after 10 days.

Read More: Tarin mulls options on FBR hack

The Express Tribune had revealed that the FBR’s data centres had been hacked but the FBR tried to cover up the most devastating cyberattack.

Ahmad has been removed due to his mishandling of the cyberattack, the finance minister said while talking to The Express Tribune.

The minister said that the outgoing chairman should have taken the matter more seriously as he had also remained a member information technology of the FBR.

The finance minister was kept in the dark about the attack and the damage it caused for about 48 hours. The minister came to know from the story of The Express Tribune that appeared on August 15.

Tarin said that a few members of the FBR would also be changed but it would be the choice of the new FBR chairman to select his team members.

The sources said fingers are also pointed at chief executive officer of Pakistan Revenue Automation Limited (PRAL), its board chairman and chief information officer for their mishandling of issues.

To a question, the finance minister said that the system has not yet been fully restored and so far only 90% of the recovery was made. The minister had another meeting in the FBR on Tuesday to discuss the hacking issue.

Tarin said that the FBR could not utilise the $80 million loan to upgrade its obsolete network.

The Express Tribune had also reported that despite knowing that its information technology equipment is obsolete and some of its software is outdated, the FBR did not make any serious effort to upgrade them, which resulted in hacking of the data centres.

The systems were not improved even though the World Bank approved $80 million loan two years ago to upgrade what it called “end-of-life equipment” and “legacy branded software”.

Tarin said that if there were obstacles in using the WB loan, the FBR should have taken money from the finance ministry and upgraded the system.

The FBR people were of the view that they enhanced monitoring of the data systems after receiving a warning from the premier intelligence agency. They said that unlike the past, this time it was a file-less attack, therefore, people could not detect the attack.

“Within the existing software and hardware, we would not have done more than this,” a top FBR functionary said on condition of anonymity while explaining reasons behind the FBR to stop the attack.

Dr Ashfaq is the seventh FBR chairman who faces the task of achieving this year’s annual revenue collection target of Rs5.829 trillion and increasing the narrow tax base of only three million return filers.

“The annual tax collection target will be achieved at any cost,” Dr Ashfaq said while talking to The Express Tribune. He has to his credit collecting Rs4.735 trillion in taxes in the last fiscal year –better than expectations of many.

“My strategy of not taking income tax advances and not blocking the taxpayers’ genuine refunds would continue,” the new chairman FBR said. The FBR would not spare those who owe money to it and would not block the money that belong to the taxpayers, Dr Ashfaq said.

The new chairman said that implementation of the track and trace system and expanding the net of point of sale to connect the retailers with the FBR system will be his topmost priorities. All these changes will be made in the next three to four months.

Dr Ashfaq’s other challenge will be to effectively utilise the information received from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and ensure full recoveries of the due taxes.


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