Friday, December 21, 2012

Senate finance committee: FBR to sniff out MPs' tax data ...

Senato?rs show concer?n over inform?ation leak showin?g majori?ty never filed tax return?s.

Senators show concern over information leak showing majority never filed tax returns.


Parliamentarians have not taken kindly to a recently published report, which made details of their income tax returns public. In turn, they sought on Wednesday an explanation from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) as to how this information was leaked.

Senators from both sides of the aisles joined hands as tax authorities decided to treat the case as ?theft of classified information?, and to register a criminal case against the suspects.

Senate leader Jahangir Badar, Senate opposition leader Ishaq Dar, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar, Senator Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and other members attended a special meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance, called to find out how parliamentarians? tax information was obtained by journalist Umar Cheema, the author of the report.

FBR Chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem told the committee that ?the FBR is treating the leak of classified information as a pure case of data theft?. He said the FBR has already ordered an internal inquiry to find out how the information was leaked to the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan ?? a non-profit organisation set up to promote investigative reporting.


Hakeem added that the FBR would first ascertain who ?the thief? was through a forensic audit.? After this, an FIR would be registered against the suspects. He did not clarify whether the FIR would be registered against FBR officials or against Cheema.

The FBR chief said the rights of parliamentarians had been infringed upon, and that the board would stand behind them. Senator Badar termed the FBR?s explanation satisfactory.

The report has claimed that over two-thirds of lawmakers did not electronically file income tax returns in the fiscal year 2010-11. Out of them, 63% are senators and 69% are members of the National Assembly.

The FBR has complained often that against 3.7 million National Tax Number (NTN) holders, only 1.02 million file income tax returns. Out of 1.02 million, just 768,000 individuals pay income tax.

Senator Dar said it was a matter of concern that such classified information was leaked. He added that if parliamentarians? data has been leaked, then the data of any citizen may also be obtained by kidnappers. Dar suggested that the committee make recommendations to the Senate to amend laws and regularly publish a tax directory of parliamentarians.

While commenting on the authenticity of the information given in the report, Hakeem said that in some cases, tax payments were inaccurately stated. He, agreed, however, that parliamentarians? taxation documentation was not according to the format prescribed by law.

The FBR chief added that all parliamentarians should obtain NTNs. The committee agreed to his suggestion of immediately setting up dedicated tax desks in Parliament to allot NTNs to all members of Parliament. NTNs, however, do not necessarily mean incomes and assets are correctly disclosed.

?The report tried to create adversity but the FBR will turn it into an opportunity by addressing procedural issues,? said Hakeem, while urging the parliamentarians to comply with tax laws.

Meanwhile, Chaudhry Shujaat claimed that under the law, the FBR cannot make the details of tax paid and parliamentarians? NTNs public ? an assertion rejected by the FBR.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2012.


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