OUR STAFF REPORTER ISLAMABAD - The Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) has refunded taxes worth Rs 44.1 billion during 2009 to May 2011 period. The figures were presented in the first meeting of the recently constituted Federal Tax Ombudsmans Advisory Committee which was held here with Federal Tax Ombudsman Dr Muhammad Shoaib Suddle in the chair. Federal Minister for Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh also graced the occasion. The Committee was informed that FTO has refunded Rs 34 billion in 2009, Rs 7 billion in 2010 and Rs 3.1 billion in the first five months (January-May) of the ongoing year 2011. The Committee was informed that as far as redressing of individual complaints is concerned, most of complaints are decided within 60 days. Some complicated issues may take a little more time. However, hardly any complaint takes more than 90 days to decide. The average time taken to investigate the complaints has been reduced from 117 days in 2009 to 67 days in 2010. The target is to further reduce it to 60 days in 2011. There is not a single complaint pending from the previous years. Presently, FTO Office is dealing with complaints filed during 2011. The ratio of FTOs decisions in favour of the taxpayers is generally over 80 percent. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Muhammad Shoaib Suddle said that quick and inexpensive access to justice through the FTO mechanism has enhanced the taxpayers confidence. FTO emphasized on the protection of the taxpayers from the maladministration by the tax authorities and how to implement the FTO Ordinance in its letter and spirit. The country is passing through difficult phase and economic managers are doing their best to take the country out of this turmoil. Its time to payback, we all have to do our best to serve our motherland, said Dr Muhammad Shoaib Suddle. While speaking on the occasion, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Minister for Finance, Revenue, Economic Affairs, Statistics & Planning and Development, appreciated the performance of FTO Office in addressing tax maladministration. He assured his full support and cooperation of FBR in the redressal of taxpayers grievances. The august audience was briefed on mandate and the functioning of the FTO, particularly how to redress complaints of individual taxpayers, and complaints relating to systemic issues of tax maladministration. The FTO office has been actively redressing the grievances of individual taxpayers over the past two years. During the process, systemic problems have been identified which frequently arise again and again and thus plague the tax regime. FTO Office feels that the ultimate solution lies in establishing a simple and reliable system of dispute resolution and complaint management firstly by FBR itself as required under Section 7 of the FBR Act, 2007. The investigative capacity and skill sets of FTO Office should focus mainly on systemic issues elimination of which would benefit the taxpaying community in general rather than only those individual taxpayers who file complaints before the FTO. The FTO Office intends to make a paradigm shift in its approach to dispute resolution. The best way to provide justice to taxpayer is through elimination of systemic issues of tax maladministration. It will reduce the need for making complaints every now and then on the same issues. Addressing systemic issues will spare a lot of management time of the tax administration, which is presently being lost in avoidable litigation. It will also save the taxpayer a lot of entrepreneurial time and reduce his cost of doing business. APP adds: Federal Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on Monday said that Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) would be further strengthened with an aim to make taxation system more effective and transparent to facilitate the taxpayers for broadening of tax regime in the country. He stated this while talking to newsmen after attending a briefing regarding the performance and initiatives of the FTO office for facilitating the tax payers. He said that with the help of FTO, more people would be brought into the tax net and the FBR has already identified 700,000 new tax payers. Dr Hafeez Shaikh said new technologies were being introduced in different departments of the FBR to achieve the objective. We have brought revolutionary changes in the refund system of the FBR as it issued cheques amounting to Rs. 44 billion during the current fiscal year as against Rs. 20 billion during the year 2009-10, he said and added that earlier the refund system was itself a source of corruption but now this aspect had been totally eliminated by centralizing the refund system. He observed that in the new centralized refund system, there were no chances of any corruption.