Govt defends FBR purge amid concerns

Law minister says changes at top hierarchy not intended to label anyone as corrupt

Our Correspondent May 03, 2024
The FBR has audited the company’s withholding tax deductions in the past. However, it is the first time that the FBR has decided to open the company’s books to see the complete details. Photo: REUTERS


The government defended its recent decision on Thursday to remove over two-dozen top officers from the Pakistan Customs and the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) based on intelligence reports alleging their lack of integrity.

Amid widespread discontent among officers in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Minister for Law Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar attempted to assuage bureaucratic concerns, stating that the changes at the top hierarchy of the tax body were not intended to label anyone as "corrupt".

The minister emphasized that in line with the prime minister's vision, reforming the FBR to address the economic crisis was a top government priority. "Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is leading the entire reform process in this regard," he stated during a news conference.

On April 26, Shehbaz Sharif removed 25 officers from the FBR, including chief commissioners and a former FBR chairman, based on input from three intelligence agencies regarding their financial integrity and competence.

In response to the move, tax officers expressed concerns about alleged harassment and media trials, warning of the detrimental impact on achieving revenue targets just two months before the close of the fiscal year.

The Express Tribune on Wednesday reported that the Pakistan Customs Group had moved a resolution, seeking evidence of profiling the tax officers as corrupt and honest, and agreed to take a legal course against the prime minister’s move to purge the FBR of compromised officers.

The Association of Custom officers had moved the resolution for voting of its members before taking the matter to the highest level, according to sources.

Once approved within 24 hours by the majority of votes, the group plans to exert pressure on the government for the action that garnered appreciation for the premier but exposed two of the top civil service groups to public scrutiny.

Tarar, in his news conference, said that some postings and transfers had been made in the FBR and more were expected in the coming days with strict adherence to merit. “Competent officers with good reputations are being brought in the front so the policies will be implemented efficiently.”

He said transfers would also be made in the customs office to streamline the system and its effects would also go to the lower level.

The minister highlighted that currently, tax cases pertaining to the recovery of more than Rs2,700 billion were in courts pending decisions, which should be concluded early.

Parliament, he said, for the first time has legislated on tax tribunals in order to not only expedite the process but also to make it efficient. “Under the law, cases of Rs20 million will go to commissioners while the cases above this limit will go to tribunals,” he added.

Tarar said steps were also being taken to expand the tax net, recoveries, income tax collection and stop electricity theft in the country.

The prime minister, he said, is committed to revive the economy and added he has given full liberty to the FBR to perform well.

The law minister said that the IMF has recommended expanding the tax net, controlling electricity theft and ensuring good governance to save the resources.

The people were earning millions of rupees but paying no income taxes, he said, adding that it was unfair to put more burden on those who were already taxpayers.

The minister said amendments in the law were a good initiative and now practical steps were required to bring the country out from financial crisis.


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