ISLAMABAD: In yet another major reshuffle in its economic team, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government on Tuesday removed the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) while the special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on finance and revenue said he had resigned.
Informed sources said FBR chairman Asim Ahmad, who was fifth in the row in almost three years, was removed after a major cyberattack on taxpayers’ data, which was archived and managed by the FBR for automation, while SAPM Dr Waqar Masood Khan was asked to quit since he was seen as a follower of the ‘status quo’.
A cabinet member said Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had a heart-to-heart discussion with Dr Khan and told him that as a private sector person Mr Tarin wanted swift action on tax reforms process and Dr Khan belonged to the old school of thought. Dr Khan graciously agreed and signed off.
The Prime Minister Secretariat is not happy with the performance of FBR’s top management, particularly over slow pace of reforms — digitisation and simplification of tax laws and revenues stuck in litigation for years.
Tax collection body chief removed after major cyberattack on data
Moreover, Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to transform the tax machinery to support economic growth through policy measures. However, the top management of the FBR has failed to achieve the desired results, leading to quick changes of chairmen, the source said. When contacted, Dr Waqar Khan confirmed that he had submitted his resignation to the government on August 23. “I submitted resignation on my own”, he said, adding that he would be available when his services would be required in the future.
In the outgoing fiscal year, the FBR collected Rs4.721 trillion, exceeding the revised target of Rs4.691tr by Rs30 billion. The government, while preparing the budget for the ongoing fiscal year, had assured the International Monetary Fund that it would raise Rs5.829tr in FY22 against Rs4.721tr collected in FY21.
On Tuesday, the government appointed Dr Mohammad Ashfaq Ahmed, a BS-21 officer of Inland Revenue Service (IRS), as new chairman of the FBR. He has also been assigned the additional charge of the secretary of revenue division for a three months or till posting of a regular incumbent, whichever is earlier.
The FBR issued three notifications after the cabinet approved Mr Ahmed’s appointment as the sixth chairman. He also quit his current position of member (operations) of IRS, a coveted post which he had been holding for two years along with the post of director general international taxes.
As international taxes director general, he is responsible for keeping records on overseas Pakistanis’ assets. Despite becoming chairman of the FBR, he still has not quit the post of the director general.
Dr Ahmed, who is close to top officials in the PM Secretariat, is expecting his promotion to BS-22 in the coming meeting.
The outgoing chairman Asim Ahmed was de-notified from the post of FBR chairman. However, no official word was available regarding his posting at the FBR.
When contacted, Finance Minister Tarin said that Mr Ahmed was removed due to the recent cyberattack on FBR database. Mr Tarin said that Mr Ahmed was posted as a member of information technology for two years in the FBR, but he did not install sufficient security to protect taxpayers’ data. “Somebody has to take the responsibility for the debacle,” the minister said in an angry tone.
No regular member of IT has been appointed at the bureau since April 2021 when Mr Ahmed was elevated to the post of FBR chairman. It shows the FBR top management’s apathy towards the protection of privacy and data of taxpayers.
The Karachi Tax Bar Association has sent a letter to the finance minister to apprise him of the nature of sensitive data that the association believed had been hacked. It contained sensitive personal and business information of taxpayers – international bank account numbers, computerised national identity card numbers, dates of birth, and passport numbers, the letter said.
According to sources, the new chairman will be tasked with expediting the stalled reforms process, clearing up pending revenue in litigation, minimising corruption in the field formations and facilitating taxpayers through automation.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2021