The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has served call-up notices on nearly half a dozen top taxmen for not providing legally protected information that a taxpayer had shared with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) under the 2019 offshore assets tax amnesty scheme.
The anticorruption watchdog had sought the information about seven people, belonging to a political family of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, according to the documents of NAB and the FBR.
The name of the taxpayer had surfaced in Panama Papers. NAB is conducting an inquiry into the alleged accumulation of assets beyond known sources. “Income tax returns of the individuals made certain disclosures to the FBR about their foreign assets,” stated NAB while sharing names of the seven people.
“Please clarify who amongst the following individuals disclosed any domestic or foreign assets under the provisions (of) Voluntary Declaration of Domestic Assets Act 2018 or Assets Declaration Ordinance 2019.” The FBR informed NAB that the law stopped its people from sharing the tax and asset information of those who availed the amnesty schemes. The Law Division also backed the FBR’s position.
But NAB has served the call-up notices on member information technology, member operations, member administration, member legal and member headquarters of the FBR. The fresh notices in an old case were served last month - days before the planned meeting of the high-powered board that was scheduled to take up promotion cases of civil servants from Grade 21 to Grade 22.
However, subsequently, the prime minister, who chairs the board meeting, postponed the meeting again.
Incidentally, those who have received call-up notices are eligible to be promoted and their names have been communicated to the Establishment Division for consideration by the promotion board.
Sources said that the Establishment Division had received a list of 26 people for promotion to Grade 22 against three positions of the FBR’s Inland Revenue Service.
FBR Chairman Dr Mohammad Ashfaq is also among the 26 potential candidates for the promotion but his name is at number 18th in the seniority list.
Except one, all of those who received NAB notices are senior to chairman FBR
Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown the resolve to promote only clean and competent people but five taxmen are facing NAB notices just because they tried to uphold the law passed by parliament.
The documents, including the legal opinion given by the Law Division, suggest that under the Tax Amnesty Schemes of 2018 and 2019 the FBR cannot disclose the names of those who will avail the amnesty scheme.
The first tax amnesty scheme had been given by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi after Panama Papers leaks and the second one was introduced by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Public office holders were not eligible to avail the tax amnesty scheme.
The member information technology of the FBR had refused to provide the information due to legal obstacles.
Sources said that out of the seven members of the political family, only one person had availed the tax amnesty scheme and he was not a public office holder.
According to the call-up notice issued to one of the Grade-21 officers, NAB informed the officer that it was investigating a case against an accused on allegations of assets beyond means and money laundering. NAB asked the persons to appear before it on December 23 for “non-provision of information”.
The information technology wing of the FBR had sought opinion of member legal, FBR, who stated that “a plain reading of Section 11 of the Voluntary Declaration of Domestic Assets Ordinance 2018 and Section 14 of the Assets Declaration Ordinance 2019 makes it evident that the said confidentiality provisions are applicable on the NAO, 1999 and NAB has no inherent power to proceed in this regard,” showed the official documents.
NAB has also served the call-up notice on member legal for not providing the required information. The officer is part of the panel but his name is at the bottom of the seniority list. Tax amnesty laws had provided complete protection to those who availed the amnesty schemes.
The law says that no tax amnesty declaration can be used as evidence against the declarant. It also says that the amnesty law will override any other law for the time being in force.
In order to resolve the legal issue of provision of relevant record, opinion of the Ministry of Law and Justice had been obtained whether the exclusive jurisdiction granted to NAB vide Section 27 of NAO 1999 overrides the confidentiality provisions of Section 11 of the Voluntary Declaration of Domestic Assets Ordinance, 2018 and Section 14 of the Assets Declaration Ordinance, 2019, according to the sources.
The Law Division informed the FBR that the tax amnesty details could not be shared with NAB, as the amnesty law, which came later, would take precedent over the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999.
The income tax law also bars the taxmen from disclosing taxpayers’ information. However, this clause has now been amended to the extent of high public office holders and civil servants.
The FBR had communicated its stance to NAB first in 2019, then in 2020 and finally in 2021.
NAB is of the opinion that under Section 27 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, the confidentiality clause contained in the Voluntary Declaration of Domestic Assets Act, 2018 is inapplicable to the NAB Ordinance because it has an inherent power to proceed in this regard, according to the documents.
NAB stated that the NAB chairman has an overriding effect over other fiscal enactments, consequently NAB can seek the requisite information and ask for record and in case of non-cooperation resort to remedies provided under the NAO, 1999.
The official version of NAB was awaited till the filing of the story.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2022.
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