Thursday June 20, 2024

Amid stiff resistance, Senate okays hiring of US firm for FBR digitisation

American multinational strategy and management consulting firm Mckinsey has been picked by FBR

By Mumtaz Alvi
April 30, 2024
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) office. — APP/File
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) office. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Monday adopted the recommendations made by a three-member special committee through a motion moved in the House by its convener Senator Farooq H Naek amid stiff opposition by a treasury member over the ‘hasty legislation’.

PMLN’s Saadia Abbasi called for putting an end to doing legislation in haste and recalled how, after the 2018 elections, Hafeez Sheikh was made the finance minister, who played havoc with the national economy in such a way that had no parallel in history.

The lawmaker said whenever a government is installed, it is said the economy would start running, if utility bills tariff is increased, rupee is devalued and some officers are transferred. “Bypassing the parliament this way is wrong,” she said.

She raised concerns over the hiring of a US firm for digitisation of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and raised objection over the ‘perceived’ sharing of crucial FBR data identifying sources of revenues with outsiders.

The treasury lawmaker strongly objected to the report of a special committee, which was formed last week to examine the money bill seeking to expedite the process of recovery of over Rs2 trillion held up in litigation before the tribunals and superior courts, was tabled in the House by Senator Naek.

Reading out a report from an English newspaper, she said a proposal was made by an American multinational strategy and management consulting firm, Mckinsey, on FBR’s digitisation, wondering if there was dearth of people in Pakistan for the job. She wanted to know who had authorised hiring of Mckinsey while ignoring the PPRA rules and standard operating procedures and remarked that could not be a decision of an individual. “Tenders should have been invited and a single individual cannot take such decisions,” she added.

Saadia Abbasi also read out a press release, which said Finance Minister Senator Muhammad Aurangzeb had chaired the meeting of the Steering Committee on Digitalisation of FBR, which was attended by ‘key stakeholders’, including FBR chairman, CEO Karandaz and representatives from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

She asked as to how Bill and Melinda Foundation became stakeholders in Pakistan and the FBR, as it is an NGO which came to Pakistan for macro-financing. She regretted that agenda of others is imposed on lawmakers and they are asked to advance it, cautioning such things would be detrimental for the country.

Leader of the opposition in the Senate, Syed Shibli Faraz of PTI, rose to endorse her views and concerns and questioned what the urgency was to pass the money bill, adding the practice of bulldozing laws must be put aside.

He regretted that bills are passed without discussion in the House. He said just three members of the House examined the money bill, noting that this was a sophisticated form of bulldozing legislation.

Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar urged the opposition lawmakers to avoid opposition for the sake of opposition and support the positive moves, made by the government. Later, the special committee’s recommendations were adopted amid voice of no by the opposition members.

The issue of media reports on imposition of tax on users of solar panels echoed in the House, raised by the treasury benches. Speaking on a point of order, Palwasha Behram of PPP raised the issue and warned that reports of taxation on solar energy was a conspiracy against the prime minister and vowed to resist any such move and asked for an inquiry into the matter as to how such reports were spread.

PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman raised concerns regarding taxation on solar systems. She expressed dismay over the news of proposed taxes on solar systems and insisted that the entire country could not be punished for the sake of ageing dinosaur IPPs.

PTI’s Senator Aoun Abbas claimed that someone had pocketed ‘profit’ of Rs85 billion by importing 3.4 million tonnes of wheat from Ukraine. “The decision to import wheat was taken on October 22, 2023 by the caretaker regime and the first ship arrived on November 1, as someone knew and placed orders in advance, knowing the caretakers were going to allow its import,” he noted. He also said farmers in Punjab had suffered losses of Rs100 billion, as already 4.6 million tonnes of wheat were available in stocks.

PMLN’s parliamentary leader Irfan Siddiqui clarified that there was no truth in reports of legislation to give someone an extension. “The members have the right to support or oppose but right now no such thing is around,” he said. He was responding to Senator Aoun’s concerns.

JUIF’s Maulana Attaur Rehman decried that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was deprived of full representation in the Senate, unlike all other provinces and wanted to know what its crime was.