ISLAMABAD - A parliamentary committee yesterday expressed disappointment over the reluctance of the high government officials to take action against corrupt FBR officials.

The FBR officers in Azad Jammu and Kashmir were harassing foreign companies and demanding bribes from them, which was giving a bad name to the country, said Senator Saleem Mandviwala, while presiding over a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance.

Mandviwala said there was a written complaint by a foreign company against a commissioner and assistant commissioner of FBR posted in Mirpur, AJK, but the finance minister, adviser to prime minister on revenue and even the FBR member expressed inability to take action in this regard. The senators were united against the indifferent attitude of the high government officials and FBR towards the issue of corruption and demanded action against the accused.

The foreign company had also lodged a written complaint with FBR member Rehmatullah Wazir, but he showed his inability to take action against the accused officers, Mandviwala said.

The FBR member said: “The accused officials are working on deputation with the AJK government, so they cannot take action. Only AJK government can do anything against them.”

FBR Chairman Nisar Muhammad Khan said the complaint of the foreign company would be addressed. The senators urged him to call back the accused officers as such attitude was bringing a bad name to the country. Nisar assured the senators that the corrupt officers would be called back from AJK to the FBR head office and strict action taken against them.

The meeting discussed the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Bill, 2016, clause by clause and deferred its approval until the next meeting. Briefing on Benami Transaction Bill, Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Nisar Muhammad Khan said that after its enactment, the FBR would get powers to take action against those holding properties besides taking action against the people who would provide wrong information regarding benami properties.

The committee said the ‘Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill aimed at declaring wealth either in property or in any other form of assets. The Senate Committee on Finance has to forward the report on the bill to the upper house on or before January 3, 2017. The National Assembly has already passed it to discourage holding of property in benami.

“There are hundreds of thousands of benami bank accounts in the country and a large number of properties are also benami,” FBR Chairman Nisar Muhammad Khan said, while highlighting the salient features of the bill.

Saleem Mandviwala questioned how it would be proven that the properties were not genuine, adding people had also shown concerns over being victimised through this law. The FBR chairman said if properties were registered under the names of other family members, they would also be held responsible.

In several benami cases, a rich person keeps property or assets in the name of his/her servant or some other poor person, Nisar Khan said. In other cases of benami holdings, the property or asset is held in the name of an unknown person and that person does not even know about it.

“In such benami holding, the CNIC of a person is used to buy a property and that person does not even know about it,” the FBR chairman affirmed. Senator Ayesha Raza asked if the servant accepts that the said property belonged to him or her, what the FBR would do. The FBR chairman replied they would ask the driver or the gardener why he was doing such a petty job despite owning such a costly property.

Senator Talha Mehmood questioned: If the property is owned by a driver, will you take action against him/her, but will happen if the property is owned by a prince?” The senator said the property transactions were being held through files and the stamp papers purchased in 2014 were also being used in 2016. This trick was being used to avoid taxes worth millions of rupees, he added.

Finance Secretary Dr Waqar Masood Khan said under the new law, the benami property holders would be held responsible and such properties would be confiscated by the government. He, however, added benami properties could be legitimised before the enactment of the law.

It was decided that those who hold such properties or assets would be given 60 days after the approval of the benami law to streamline their affairs and get the assets in the name of real owners.

The committee remained divided over the penalty for the benami properties as such a property would be confiscated under the law, but some members were of the view that the government cannot confiscate such properties. They recommended heavy penalty over such transactions.

Senator Bilour, opposing this point, said the bill should not be applied to the benami properties purchased before the enactment of the law. He also opposed confiscation of the properties and said proposed a heavy penalty.