LAHORE  - The Punjab Revenue Authority (PRA) has opposed a move by the CEO of Pakistan Revenue Automation Limited (PRAL) to replace its employees with the FBR staff and assign its functions to a private body.

Though PRAL CEO Ms Raana Ahmad has denied that any such development is on the cards, the documents available with The Nation speak otherwise. FBR Chairman Tariq Bajwa who is also chairman of PRAL was not available for comments despite repeated attempts to contact him.

Ms Raana on February 28 wrote a letter to all chief commissioners that FBR’s operations are not PRAL’s domain. PRAL’s role is that of an enabler and not of an executor. They are only to provide and maintain software, infrastructure and training to FBR’s personnel, the letter added.

Recently, PRA Chairman Iftikhar Qutab has also written a letter to Ms Raana and the Punjab chief minister that PRAL had written agreements with PRA, E&T, NHA, NBP and other organisations to automate the government data in these government-owned bodies.

Ms Raana, however, claimed the government wanted to continue the PRAL-signed agreements with the provinces and government bodies. She denied the FBR wanted to hire services of any private company for revenue automation replacing the FBR-PRAL. However, she said the government wanted to do right-sizing in the company that was overburdened.

As per documents, PRAL General Manager Hassan Pervaiz was sacked on February 19 by the BoM and recommended a new GM, Ahmad Nawaz, who left PRAL and joined PITB. He left the board and joined Infotech when Information Technology Secretary Ms Raana Ahmed was made an OSD on the instructions of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Some circles had shown concerns over the CEO’s present actions regarding replacing the PRAL technical staff with the FBR employees as the public view about the latter is not good. The taxpayers feel more convenient with the company rather than the FBR staff, they claimed.

An official of the PRAL, conditioning anonymity, said the FBR wanted to hire services of Infotech or any other private company at the cost of a heavy load on the public kitty. He said with the registration of motor vehicles in Punjab, terrorist activities were controlled, so the company wanted to extend the registration scheme to the other provinces. The Punjab police, the E&T and other departments also wanted to hire services of the PRAL in near future, he held. He said that the PRAL staff would challenge the acts of the current CEO, including the dismissal of decades-old staff in courts of law.

Infotech Private Limited wrote a letter to the PRA on February 20, 2013, that the company wanted to introduce its tax solution for the authority at no cost. Later, if the system makes its mark, it can then negotiate a public-private partnership model.

The PRA had written to the Punjab government that involving or engaging private sector companies for the administration of tax data along with several other data streams of national importance, is crucially very sensitive question. “It is advisable to involve private-sector companies in automated tax management even though government-sponsored IT institutions like PITB and PRAL are already available to undertake the government’s IT-related obligations,” the letter said.

Talking about the company, Teradata, the letter said the US GDP is $15 trillion and tax collection at all levels is only 0.055 percent of the national revenue. If this additionality rataze is applied to the E&T Department’s current target of Rs 21 billion, the net increase comes to only Rs 11 million which is not an attractive proposition. The company cost given was US $ one million.

In another letter dated March 4, the PRA had written to CEO Raana Ahmad, showing concerns. It wrote that the Punjab government had preferred PRAL only for the reason that it is not only owned by the FBR but also has unmatchable experience in IT system-based tax collection and management. Thus any sudden changes in PRAL’s operational dynamics, including unilateral termination of employment contracts of its functionaries associated with the provincial tax administration are likely to carry far-reaching adverse implications on the tax domains of the province. The letter added that the manpower arrangements already in place or being put in place under the PRAL’s contract with PRA and Punjab E&T may not be disturbed under unilateral decisions without taking the Punjab government/PRA into confidence.

Sources in the PRAL have feared that with the firing of current operational staff, all the agreements of the FBR-owned company with the National Bank of Pakistan and the provincial bodies like Sindh Revenue Board, Punjab Revenue Authority, KPK Revenue Authority, National Highways Authority, Excise and Taxation Punjab etc would be at stake.