A parliamentary panel on finance called upon the lower house speaker on Monday to take action against Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh for his continued absence from panel meetings.
Members of the standing committee also threatened to move a privilege motion against the minister for his constant absence. Some even took potshots at Shaikh over the dismal state of the economy during his tenure.
They said that the economy was on the verge of collapse due to the “poor performance of the finance minister” and that was probably why Shaikh had steered clear of parliamentary body meetings.
Lawmaker Bushra Gohar challenged Shaikh to resign from his post “if he did not care for the parliamentary body”. Gohar suggested that the parliamentary panel could issue a summons to finance minister for disgracing its authority.
Accusing the finance minister of not taking interest in the affairs of the country, parliamentarian Kashmala Tariq said, “He (Hafeez Shaikh) has been imported like Shaukat Aziz and has come with just a briefcase.”
“He should withdraw his portfolio of finance minister if he does not want to be answerable,” said Abdul Rasheed Gondal. Similarly, Gondal said, the finance secretary has attended only two meetings of the committee so far. In his view, the matter should be referred to the prime minister and National Assembly speaker for action in line with rules of business.
The head of the standing committee, Khawaja Sohail Mansoor, decided to move a privilege motion against the finance secretary if he did not turn up at the committee’s next meeting. The embarrassment caused to parliamentarians by the report on tax evasion continued when the committee asked the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to issue a statement stating that all parliamentarians were honorable members and not tax evaders.
The committee also asked FBR authorities to submit a comparative study on the incomes and taxes paid by generals, judges and federal secretaries in the next meeting. Members insisted that the date for filing tax returns should be extended for parliamentarians by exempting them from penalty.
Inquiring about how a secret document was leaked to the media, the committee chairman said that FBR had leaked the information to press the parliamentarians to get the amnesty scheme approved from parliament. Member Admin FBR Husnain Ahmad said it was a case of data theft and an inquiry was under way, adding that the main source of leaked information was the Election Commission.
The committee was informed that 2.2 million people had National Tax Numbers (NTN) but only 0.9 million had filed their tax returns. The parliamentary panel also criticised the FBR for failure to crack down on 3.8 million tax evaders identified by NADRA.
National flag carrier
The standing committee took serious exception to the report that the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), had faced huge losses during Hajj operations whereas the private Shaheen Airline had posted a profit.
When questioned as to why a private airline was allotted the Hajj quota despite the national carrier being fully capable of handling operations, the panel was informed that the Saudi government had asked Pakistan to designate one private airline for Hajj operations and the ministry of religious affairs had designated Shaheen Airlines.
Parliamentarians directed the PIA management to present a detailed report on recruitments at high salary packages.
PIA Managing Director Junaid Yunas admitted surplus staffing at the carrier but assured that no extension would be given to officials from January 2013.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2012.
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