Integrity of FBR officers questioned

KARACHI: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has taken notice of rampant ‘corruption’ and appointment of officers with ‘embarrassingly compromised reputations’ at key positions in the Federal Board of Revenue, initiating a process that may eventually cleanse the tainted organisation.

In a strongly-worded letter, the Prime Minister’s Office also directed FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha to submit a detailed report about the ‘integrity’ of all FBR members, officers heading field formations and strategic units of the FBR of both Customs and Inland Revenue.

The prime minister has given November 28 as the deadline to the FBR chairman to submit a report about his all top officers, including those who faced inquiries in the past but still serving on lucrative posts.

Former FBR Chairman Tariq Bajwa had initiated a cleansing exercise but after his transfer in November 2015 things became worse.

The chairman is the final authority in the appointment of members of the FBR and heads of all field formations. After assuming office in July this year, Pasha has brought his own team at the headquarters and in the field formations.

The decision to take notice of unethical practices in the tax machinery and official patronage available to corrupt officers suggests that PM Abbasi is in the mood of fulfilling his promise to broaden the tax base –and the first step towards that is to cleanse the organisation of corrupt people.

After becoming the country’s chief executive, Abbasi had announced broadening the tax base as his first priority. Since then, he has held numerous meetings of the FBR, including the one with the Tax Reforms Implementation Committee.

“It has been brought to the knowledge of the PM that no action is being taken against a number of officers in whose cases formal inquiries on equally serious charges have been completed since long,” according to a letter written by Fawad Hasan Fawad, secretary to the PM.

The PM’s letter has particularly sought details about three grade-20 officers — Basharat Ahmad Qureshi, Sharif Ahmad Awan and Mrs Shahar Bano Walajahi, according to the official letter.

“The PM has been further informed that certain officers of the FBR with embarrassingly compromised reputations and general conduct are leading some of the most important establishments of the FBR,” according to the letter.

Qureshi’s case was of classical nature that highlights protection available to corrupt officers. An inquiry had established that the officer gave illegal tax benefit to the Pak-Arab Fertiliser Limited and the Fatima Fertiliser Limited, according to the FBR report.

But the matter remains pending. In January 2015, he was posted as Commissioner RTO-III Karachi.

The FBR had proven that Sharif Awan ‘held assets beyond means’ but in February he was posted as Commissioner Appeals in RTO Karachi. The FBR had also proven the charge that Shahar Bano Walajahi gave undue favour of Rs429.8 million to a taxpayer by deleting a demand that she herself generated after going through the record.

The premier has asked for the details of all cases of officials, officer of BPS-16 and above belonging to the Pakistan Customs Services, Inland Revenue Services and other cadres of the FBR against whom formal disciplinary proceedings were initiated by the FBR from June 2013 onwards on the charges of corruption, issuance of bogus refunds, criminal connivance with tax evaders, misuse of authority and negligence resulting loss of revenue.

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