IHC suspends govt notification about tax ombudsman’s removal

Updated June 15, 2019

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Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera’s counsel contends FTO can only be removed by SJC. — Dawn/File
Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera’s counsel contends FTO can only be removed by SJC. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) suspended on Friday a government notification about removal of Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera from the position of Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) and asked the president, prime minister and secretary of the law division to submit replies on the matter within a fortnight.

However, IHC’s Chief Justice Athar Minallah restrained Mr Sukhera from performing his functions till the next date of hearing.

The law ministry had on Thursday removed Mr Sukhera from the post of FTO by de-notifying his appointment through a notification.

Mr Sukhera challenged the government action through his counsel Zainab Janjua, who submitted before the court that the appointment and removal of the FTO was governed by the Establishment of the Office of FTO Ordinance, 2000 and the Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act, 2013.

Sukhera’s counsel contends FTO can only be removed by SJC

She referred to Section 6(2) of the 2000 Ordinance and Section 5 of the 2013 Act and contended that once the FTO took the oath, his removal could only be made through the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

Section 5 of the Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act, 2013 says: “An Ombudsman may be removed from office through Supreme Judicial Council on the grounds of being incapable of properly performing duties of his office by reason of physical or mental incapacity or found to have been guilty of misconduct.”

The law ministry did not refer the matter to the SJC and through a notification declared his appointment as void ab initio.

Justice Minallah issued notices to the president, prime minister and secretary of the law and justice division and sought their replies within 15 days. The court also issued a notice to the attorney general for Pakistan and adjourned hearing till June 24.

The court’s order said: “Till the next date fixed, operation of the impugned notification shall remain suspended. However, the petitioner is restrained from performing his functions till the next date fixed.”

Sources privy to the developments said that Mr Sukhera, who was close to the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was facing allegations in the Model Town incident and had developed differences with senior officials of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

The Federal Tax Ombudsman Ordinance 2002 empowered him to proceed on a “complaint by any aggrieved person, or on a reference by the president, the Senate or the National Assembly, as the case may be, or on a motion of the Supreme Court or a High Court made during the course of any proceedings before it or of his own motion, investigate any allegation of maladministration on the part of the Revenue Division or any Tax Employee”.

The sources said that some senior officers of the FBR had submitted a representation against the FTO to President Dr Arif Alvi.

Earlier this year, secretary for Inland Revenue wrote a letter to the FTO and claimed that the latter was exceeding his jurisdiction.

The letter, available with Dawn, said: “The FTO does not have jurisdiction to investigate or inquire into matters in respect of which legal remedies of appeal/review/revision are available.”

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019