Thursday was not a good day for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). Representatives from the organisation were grilled in a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee about the question it has kept dodging: what is the exact amount of tax refunds it owes?

It turns out that the FBR had been evading this question for a good reason. Upon scrutiny of the National Assembly Standing Committee, the FBR representatives admitted that tax refund claims of over Rs532 billion had been blocked since 2014 to show higher growth in revenue collection.

While this is a troubling disclosure, it should not be surprising. The numbers never added up and the confusion should have made clear that there was a severe miscalculation. Given that the six-year total unpaid returns amount to a whopping Rs532 billion, which does not constitute even as much as one quarter’s current collection rates on average, one can only wonder whether these returns even really made a substantial difference in collection figures. Considering that the target for this year’s first quarter is above Rs900 billion—an unrealistic figure based on past performance—it is not unexpected that the FBR fumbled on some of the numbers.

The issue is one of ambiguity with figures and a lack of clarity and vision when it comes to determining target revenues. Even now, the FBR is claiming that the remaining income tax refund claims are either adjusted, eliminated by demand or are unverified, reflecting a lack due diligence by the organisation, or little attention to detail to the numbers. The biggest problem is the target themselves. A 27 percent increase is expected this year in collection, from 3.9 to 4.9 billion and yet no explanation on how this will be possible with a “tax-free” budget.

Attention needs to be redirected towards clarity and transparency, rather than image-building. Inflating numbers, whether it concerns revenue or while setting unrealistic targets, aggravates more than it helps.