ISLAMABAD - Participants of a roundtable discussion organised by Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) here on Wednesday agreed that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) would have to be made operationally autonomous to improve tax collection and control corruption within organisation.

Dr. Muhammad Shoaib Suddle, the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO), who was the main speaker of roundtable titled, “Institution of Ombudsman and the Taxpayer Grievance System: An Overview” shared that the FTO had disposed of 15,827 complaints out of total of 16,000 cases filed since its establishment in 2000, and added that it had decided 85 percent of the cases in favour of taxpayers.

Dr Suddle shared that FBR is required to implement FTO’s decision within 30 days or refer case to representation before president, because there is no appeal against FTO decisions in any other court. He added that since his assumption of office of FTO, the average time for resolution of a complaint had been reduced from 117 days in 2009 to 60 days in 2011, and that out of the total Rs7.89 billion refunded by the FTO to the taxpayers since its inception, Rs5.98 billion were refunded during his term. Similarly, he said that implementation of FTO decisions had improved from 170 cases in 2009 to 760 cases in 2011.

Dr Suddle believed that the option of representation to president by aggrieved party was a costly delaying process. He added that with the appeal to president, the implementation of FTO decision is stayed automatically pending presidential response, which usually takes at least two years. Dr Tariq Hassan, Attorney and Advocate, further added that according to article 199 it was unconstitutional to stay a financial matter beyond six months. 

Dr Suddle termed FBR’s lack of required will and capacity to reform as another major challenge to the work of FTO. He suggested a fixed term of service for the chairman of FBR to save him from political influences. He was of the view that ideally the FBR should have been able to take care of most of the individual complaints coming to FTO so that FTO could concentrate on systemic problems in grievance redress mechanisms of the FBR.

He also called form improved investigative capacity of FTO and greater public awareness about the institution and its work.

Dr Abdullah Yousaf, former Chairman of FBR called for a systemic reform within the FBR, which he believed was hampered by frequent policy changes with changes in the government.

Dr Gulfaraz Ahmed, former Federal Secretary, called for documentation of economy for improving tax-to-GDP ratio and to tap on actual revenue potential of the country.

Dr Tariq Hassan argued that an emphasis on rectifying how the taxpayer money is spent would also be instrumental in improving tax-to-GDP ratio. He added that Pakistan was top philanthropist country of the world and that people do not hesitate from giving away money but they do not want to pay taxes because they were not sure about the honest spending of their tax money.

Other participants of the roundtable were: Ashraf Azim, President of IRS; Brig. (Retd) Bashir Ahmed, Senior Fellow at IRS; Dr. Pierre Mayaudon, Deputy head of the EU Delegation; Farhan Bokhari, senior journalist; Tahir Dhindsa, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI); and Nouman Khan, Executive Committee Member, Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.