30 Sep 17/Saturday
In an alarming situation that indicates patronage of officers from the top, hundreds of tax officials facing inquiries on serious charges of corruption and inefficiency are serving at key positions in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
The revelations are part of a report the FBR submitted to a parliamentary body that has taken up the issue of ‘no action’ against corrupt FBR officers. The report suggests the apparent indifference by the FBR top management towards corrupt officials, who, despite facing inquires, are serving at key posts.
In most cases, the charges of corruption and inefficiency against these officials have been proven. Some of them have obtained stay orders.
CORRUPTION, TAX EVASION ON THE RISE: FBR OFFICIAL
One of the prominent cases is the one where no action has been taken against officers who were accused in the multi-billion dollar corruption case of over 7,000 missing containers of US-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and NATO, and clearance of imported wheat without payment of duties.
Where it had to take any action, the FBR shifted the entire burden on low-grade officers to save the skins at the top level. In many cases where the officials enjoyed clout, the FBR adopted a vague procedure for taking disciplinary action against them and is now seeking ex-post facto approval from the Prime Minister, showed the report.
The Senate Standing Committee of Finance has taken up the issue of non-provision of details about the officers who were facing inquiries as of November 2015 under Efficiency and Disciplinary Rules of 1973. The November 2015 cut of date is critical, as the federal government had completely reshuffled the then top FBR management, which was headed by then FBR Chairman Tariq Bajwa.
Bajwa had enjoyed a good reputation and took aggressive action but after his transfer inquiries have been put at the backburner.
A recent report of the World Bank claimed Pakistan suffers a loss of Rs3.2 trillion annually due to weak administration and non-compliant taxpayers.
In a classical case highlighting protection available to corrupt officers, an inquiry against Basharat Ahmad Qureshi -a grade 20 officer – for a loss of Rs1.2 billion was launched in 2013. The officer gave illegal tax benefit to Pak-Arab Fertilizer Limited and Fatima Fertilizer Limited, according to the FBR report. But the matter remains pending. In January 2015, he was posted as Commissioner RTO-III Karachi.
Another interesting case is that of Muhammad Sharif Awan who is a grade 20 officer. The FBR had proved the charge of ‘holding assets beyond means’ against him but still in February this year he was posted as Commissioner Appeals in Karachi RTO.
The FBR has proven the charge that Shahar Bano Walajahi – a grade 20 officer – gave undue favour of Rs429.8 million by deleting a demand that she herself generated after going through the record. The officer has obtained a stay order from the court. Despite lapse of four years FBR has done nothing significant in the case.
WHY ARE WE FAILING TO END CORRUPTION?
Similarly, in the case of Shah Bano Khan the inquiry report is awaited for three years on allegations of giving Rs13.9 million benefit to a taxpayer.
The charges of inefficiency and misconduct were approved against Abdul Hameed Abro but the punishment was stoppage of increment for two years. The FBR proved the charge of payment of bogus tax refund against its officer Jawhar Ali Shah and the punishment was only reduction to a lower stage in his own grade.
Junaid Usman Akram -a grade 18 officer – had been terminated from service in 2010 after it was established that he indulged in corrupt practices that caused a loss of Rs37.7 million. The court had ordered reinstatement of the officer while directing to hold a fresh inquiry. He was appointed as deputy director post-clearance audit this month. The FBR’s top management’s protection to the officer can be gauged from the fact that it did not appoint an inquiry officer for seven months. The FBR finally appointed an inquiry officer in February 2017 but the “inquiry is still under process”.
The FBR took years to take a decision against Mustafa Kamal -a grade 19 officer of Inland Revenues, who was finally removed from service last month on allegations of hiding his assets.
Shamsuzzaman had been accused of misconduct and corruption in a case of Rs29.3 million loss to the exchequer in March 2015.
In a glaring case, a grade 18 officer Syed Shoaib Raza was found guilty of mis-declaring his assets in April 2015. At that time he was serving in the Directorate of Transit Trade. The action taken against him was that the incumbent Secretary Revenue Division exonerated him in July. In March 2016, he was appointed as Deputy Director Customs valuation.
Nazir Ahamd Qureshi had been accused of corrupt practices, as he replaced high value seized mobile phones with low value handsets. He was given a punishment of withholding two annual increments. Qureshi is now senior preventive officer in Karachi and enjoying a double salary since March this year.
However, four officers of grade 16 who were found guilty of wrong assessments of imported consignments were given penalty of two time scales demotions. But they were not removed from their positions. They were principal appraisers and examiners, which are considered a “cash posts” in the FBR.
Five principal appraisers facing allegations of corruption were exonerated after two years.
TAXMEN AS CORRUPT AS SOCIETY: FBR CHIEF
In a case that had created ripples in the political circles, the FBR did not take sufficient action against its five officers who cleared imported wheat without collecting regulatory duties. The consignment had been imported by a well-connected business tycoon in December 2014. The FBR had imposed minor penalty of withholding annual increment against Asad Aleem, Principal Appraiser Port Qasim Karachi, but the FBR subsequently withdrew the penalty while showing leniency in August last year.
In the infamous case of 7,000 missing ISAF and Afghan Transit Trade containers between January 2008 and June 2010, the FBR has not taken any action and the matter remains pending for the last three years. There were 76 officers of two collectorates of the FBR’s Model Custom Collectorate (MCC) Peshawar and MCC Quetta were involved in the case. The Supreme Court had taken a suo moto notice of the matter.
Interestingly, all the accused officers are in grade 16 and no top ranking officer is mentioned in the report.
The FBR has given a vague response that “inquiry report has been received and case is subjudice before the SC and is under investigation with NAB authorities as well as Directorate General of I & I FBR”.
Officers who were accused of corruption in NATO containers case not only got promoted but some of them have retired from service.
Probably, irregularities in implementation of the amnesty scheme 2013 were the only case where the FBR imposed a major penalty of compulsory retirement of service in May 2017 and upheld its decision. However, in this case too no high ranking official was taken to the task.
In serious cases such as clearing goods at lower duties only minor penalties like stopping annual increments were imposed on the officers.