ISLAMABAD: Clouds of uncertainty gathered around the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) as talk continues to swirl in the capital that its chairman, Shabbar Zaidi, could be replaced in the coming days.
Zaidi himself could be moved up the heirarchy, either to the position of Minister of State for Revenue that fell vacant after its former occupant, Hammad Azhar, was elevated to full minister status and given the Economic Affairs Division, or to the position of Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Revenue.
When contacted, the chairman was tight lipped but when asked again he said, “I don’t want to comment, Prime Minister Imran Khan will decide.” Zaidi was appointed to the position on May 10 by the premier.
Another source close to the prime minister tells Dawn that two new inductions are being considered into the federal cabinet. He did not name these two, but there are indications that one of them would be Zaidi.
“No decision has yet been taken,” the source said, adding that the prime minister makes last minute changes therefore it will be premature to disclose names.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has again postponed the proposed meeting with the members of the FBR scheduled for July 17 apparently on the plea that PM is engaged with some other important issues. The last meeting postponed was meant to be held on July 10.
Members of FBR who report directly to the chairman tell Dawn that a certain amount of disconnect exists between them and Zaidi. One of them said that the chairman shares no information with the members posted at the tax body. “There is an environment of distrust of FBR chief with his team members,” the source said.
Asked for the reshuffling of top officers of the tax machinery, Zaidi said “we are making long-term planning and will not transfer any one on ad-hoc basis.” However, he said all tax officers will have to work as per their schedule until things are finalised.
The business community has been agitating against the revenue measures announced in the budget. Meetings between the chairman and delegations from the trader community broke down into pandemonium on at least two occasions, videos of which were circulated on social media. One of these events was in Karachi, and the other in Sialkot. They are also reported to have approached top people in the power corridor over the appointment of Zaidi as chairman FBR.
It is not known whether this growing anger in the business community with Zaidi’s appointment is a direct cause of the prime minister considering his replacement or not. Until appointment as chairman, Zaidi was a legal aid of big business houses in the country over tax matters with the FBR.
Another source in the Cabinet Division tells Dawn that the government is searching for a candidate to be appointed as chairman FBR. The source said that government may consider Jahanzeb Khan again as chairman following elevation of Zaidi as special assistant.
According to them, the government has earlier offered a slot of secretary Economic Affairs Division and then cabinet to Jahanzeb. However, he declined both the offers. He is still awaiting posting as federal secretary.
Another potential candidate is Younus Dagha who was removed as secretary finance recently. These two are from the non-tax group, the source said.
According to the source, three officers from tax groups are also under consideration — Member Inland Revenue Operation Ms Seema Shakil; Javed Ghani, member policy customs and additional secretary finance Mujtaba Memon, who is also from the customs group.
The reshuffling of the tax officers at FBR and field formation is linked with the final decision of whether Zaidi will continue as chairman or will be elevated to special assistant, the source said.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019