FBR’s refusal to share secret information irks MPs

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ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians and the FBR are at loggerheads after the latter refused to release details regarding alleged tax evasion by individuals and specific companies.

A heated argument had started when the Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue of the National Assembly sought details of a president of a nationalised bank for owning offshore assets abroad. The committee had met under the chairmanship of Faiz Ahmed Kamoka at the Parliament House on Monday.

To the question regarding the assets, FBR’s member Inland Revenue, Operation, Dr Ashfaque Ahmed, told the MPs that the tax proceedings of cases were at an advanced stage.

“Tax information submitted to the FBR is confidential under Section 216 of Income Tax Ordinance-2001”, he added.

Dr Ashfaque’s response led to a heated debate between the FBR and the MNAs. The FBR official was informed by the committee’s secretary that the rules say that the standing committees are empowered to seek any official record.

The refusal also led all the committee members to unit against the FBR’s response. They also added that the committees were empowered to issue warrants for anyone to obtain information on any public interest issue.

“The parliament is supreme and if you don’t share information, this parliament should close down,” said NA panel Chairman Faiz Ahmed Kamoka.

However, FBR’s member Inland Revenue (IR), Policy, Tariq Sheikh, told the MPs that the body could reach out to the Ministry of Law for guidance as the income tax law bars the FBR from sharing such information.

To this, PPP Parliamentarian Syed Naveed Qamar made it clear that the Ministry of Law’s intervention was not required as in such cases the National Assembly speaker could interpret the rules for running the proceedings of the House or the Parliamentary Committees.

The argument led FBR’s Member IR Operation, Dr Ashfaque to say that the body could be prosecuted as under the FBR laws they were bound to not release information. But he also admitted that the FBR was also bound to share information with the committee under the rules of National Assembly.

However, the FBR officials also told the MNAs that once one such secret information was leaked, and as a consequence, an Indian minister had to go before G-20 to assure the world that it would not happen again.

After the arguments, the chairman of the NA panel directed the FBR to furnish the entire information on Tuesday’s (today) hearing. He also suggested that they might hold in-camera proceedings to ensure that the details are not leaked to the public.

MNAs slam increase in price by automotive manufacturers

The MPs also slammed the increase in price by automotive manufacturers during the meeting.

When the parliamentarians grilled the Pakistan Automotive Manufacturers Association (PAMA) the representative of the body laid the blame on duty and taxes. He said that the duties and taxes make a 40% contribution into the existing domestic prices of vehicles in Pakistan.

The association suggested that the duties and taxes should be reduced. They also asked that hybrid vehicles should be incentivised instead of electric vehicles to decrease prices in the domestic market.

However, the MNAs were not satisfied when they inquired about the changes in the tax structure that had fuelled the price of different brands of cars in the country.

“We need detailed presentations on what had triggered the price hike in the car sector,” said PML-N MNA Ayesha Ghous Pasha.

MPs briefed on FBR’s performance

The NA committee was also briefed on the FBR’s performance for the ongoing year.

The country’s tax collection body stated that the FBR has refunded a significant amount to taxpayers but the pending refunds stood at Rs313 billion and Rs187 billion for sales tax.

The committee was told the FBR has so far released close to Rs99 billion in refunds in the first six months of the fiscal year.

Regarding tax collection, the FBR’s member IR Operation said the tax collection stood at Rs2,205 billion against the set target of Rs2,210 billion as 44% of total desired tax target of Rs4,963 billion.

Ayesha Ghous Pasha said the FBR paid only 18% refunds and so far 82% were still pending. She said the FBR required 30% growth in the second half for achieving the desired target for the current fiscal year.

The NA panel also directed the FBR to come up with its strategy for achieving the desired tax collection target of Rs4,963 billion during the current fiscal year.

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