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September 8, 2018

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Go by the book, FBR chairman orders taxmen

ISLAMABAD: The newly appointed Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, a grade 22 officer of the erstwhile District Management Group (DMG), has plainly told his top officers to disregard political sensitivities and go by the book while enforcing tax laws.

“Unfortunately, some FBR officers are showing political sensitivities from which they should refrain because it is the domain of the politicians to take care of political sensitivities and as civil servants we are supposed to implement the laws approved by the Parliament,” senior FBR officials quoted the FBR chairman as saying at a presentation shortly after his recent appointment.

He told the FBR officers that their performance would be the criteria for remaining in his good books and directed them to focus on enhancing their professionalism. He also told them that there would be zero tolerance if anything fishy came to his attention.

There is some resentment within the FBR at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government's appointment of a chairman from outside the ranks of the tax machinery. Seven grade-22 officers of the Inland Revenue Service and Customs Group were available for the job.

However, the FBR chairman assured senior officers nothing would be imposed from outside the FBR under the guise of restructuring. All issues would be discussed internally and then implemented within the tax collection machinery, he reportedly said.

Jehanzeb was considered close to former the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif. Nonetheless, the PTI administration chose him for this important task because of his reputed competence and hard work. If the government fails to reform the FBR, its envisioned doubling of tax collection to Rs8,000 billion within its term of office, its economic reforms agenda would lie in tatters.

This target thus figures prominently in Jehanzeb's thinking. Soon after assuming office, he directed the FBR to establish a mechanism which would yield one-page feedback briefings on all monthly progress reports submitted by chief commissioners and chief collectors.

Jehanzeb Khan is known as a man who first listens to an official's presentation and then raises poignant questions to get to the heart of a matter. In a recent presentation, the Member Internal Revenue Operations claimed that the FBR would be able to collect Rs100 billion through administrative measures and subsequently generated additional tax demands. The chairman asked how much tax had been collected through such steps in the last few years. The member was directed to come up with timelines expedite the measures detailed in his presentation.

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