Amid growing pressure to introduce administrative reforms instead of burdening existing taxpayers to enhance revenues, the government is considering weeding out corrupt and inefficient officials in the coming weeks.
In a first step to an anticipated reshuffle in the top hierarchy of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the authorities have asked the first- and second-tier management to ensure integrity aimed at improving the image of the service that has around 22,000 people as its strength and enhance revenue collection.
A loud message to ensure integrity was given on Friday during a meeting of Chief Commissioner’s Conference - a gathering of about two and a half dozen top officials of the FBR who are heading field formations.
The chief commissioners were asked to also check corruption under their noses or else it will be considered as corruption was going on with their connivance, according to senior officials who attended the meeting. The authorities resolved to improve the situation by plugging loopholes in the tax machinery.
They went as far as bringing in religious morality last month where a renowned scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel gave a motivational speech against corrupt practices, however, it was ignored and the authorities sought improvement by threatening of transfers of FBR officers.
Official sources in the FBR said that the government was considering reshuffling the top hierarchy including a couple of members who are currently responsible for majority of the revenue collection. They said that some senior FBR member level officials who are presently not serving in the headquarters may be brought in to replace apparently honest but inefficient members.
The situation in the FBR has deteriorated to an extent that the business community leaders have openly started criticising the taxmen for taking bribes and being inefficient. However, all FBR officers are not corrupt and inefficient, considering recently there have been instances where people have sacrificed their promotions after they challenged their corrupt seniors.
Where authorities gave a message to the corrupt elements in the FBR, they also appreciated those who stood out during difficult times. The conference hailed the work of Chief Commissioner Karachi Large Taxpayer Unit.
The FBR held its first Chief Commissioners Conference of the new fiscal year at a time when it is in the process of working out field formations specific revenue collection targets to achieve this year’s over ambition target of Rs3.105 trillion.
Despite levying Rs360 billion additional taxes and blocking over Rs220 billion taxpayers’ refunds, the FBR missed last fiscal year’s tax target by a wide margin. It ended the fiscal year by collecting only Rs2.581 trillion, falling short of the goal by Rs229 billion. The business as usual in the FBR will not yield any results in the new fiscal year until drastic steps are taken to correct the things, said sources. They added increasing the tax rates or levying new taxes would be counterproductive until few inefficient people are replaced, currently serving both at the headquarters and in field formations.
The taxmen were also warned that they should not misuse the powers such as entering in the business premises and confiscating record pertaining to sales and profits. The FBR officials, particularly posted in Faisalabad, Lahore and Karachi, have been accused of misusing these powers.
An official handout, released by the finance ministry, did not portray what actually happened in the meeting. It stated that issues like handling of court cases, broadening of tax base, effective utilisation of data, facilitation and education of taxpayers, motivation of FBR’s workforce, increasing numbers of tax filers, making sales tax registration easier and localised were thoroughly discussed during the meeting.
Addressing the Chief Commissioner’s Conference, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar asked taxmen to ensure simplification of procedures for filing tax returns, which he said was important to facilitate and encourage prospective taxpayers and expanding the tax net.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2015.
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