Things are coming to a head between civil servants from the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Shabbar Zaidi due to the government’s decision on replacing FBR with the Pakistan Revenue Authority (PRA). The new and supposedly improved PRA will reportedly require much less manpower than the current system and has put a question mark on the fate of roughly half of the 22000-strong staff of IRS. Given that the government’s decision to appoint Mr Zaidi as the head of the FBR was already something that the officers did not approve of – he was seen as an outsider – Zaidi might soon have a full-blown mutiny on his hands if the officers can put on a united front, and provided that the government does not look to smooth things over before implementing any decision.

This is easier said than done, because there is a still lot of confusion over what will happen when FBR is replaced by PRA. Some experienced officers believed that this plan for reforms would go nowhere in the long run; similar attempts have been made in the past as well, dating as far back as 2003 with no concrete results. Other believe that this move is almost inevitable, given the government’s seriousness on the issue; the only question is whether mass layoffs are more likely or whether the government will simply relocate officers from the IRS to other departments. There are even rumours that half of the officers will lose their civil servant status, but keep their jobs, which would be meaningless without the benefits of being a public official.

Meetings between representatives of the IRS employees and Shabbar Zaidi have proved to be fruitless; in fact, due to the mutual hostility, these consultations might even have made things worse. Officers have been told that this is a mess of their own making – poor revenue collection across the board has been identified as the main reason for a restructure. Does this mean that government’s own claims of improvements in the system are misleading?

In any case, if the government does not nip this problem in the bud, the problem will only be further exacerbated. There are reports that officers are only waiting for a nod from their seniors to begin an immediate pen-down strike – no work done in IRS offices means that the government will be killing its biggest cash cow, unless it can find a solution that is accepted by the officers as well. In any case, laying off 11000 employees – some of who appeared in one of the toughest examinations in the country to be where they are – is highly unfair. The government needs to find an alternative solution; one that does not render thousands unemployed.