Uncertainty hits FBR as Shabbar proceeds on leave again

Updated January 31, 2020

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With continuously expanding revenue shortfall against the target for the second year in a row, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s darling for revenue reforms — Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman Shabbar Zaidi — has gone on indefinite leave on medical grounds. — DawnNewsTV/File
With continuously expanding revenue shortfall against the target for the second year in a row, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s darling for revenue reforms — Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman Shabbar Zaidi — has gone on indefinite leave on medical grounds. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: With continuously expanding revenue shortfall against the target for the second year in a row, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s darling for revenue reforms — Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman Shabbar Zaidi — has gone on indefinite leave on medical grounds.

Mr Zaidi had resumed his office on Jan 21 after a two-week leave for health reasons. In his absence, the member administration, a BS-22 officer of Inland Revenue Service, took over as acting chairman of the FBR.

When contacted over the phone, Mr Zaidi told Dawn that he was in Karachi. “I am on leave and under medical treatment,” he said. On further inquiry whether he is on indefinite leave, the chairman said that it would depend on doctor’s advice he was to receive on Monday.

Sources in the FBR told Dawn that before going on leave, Mr Zaidi met Adviser to the Prime Minister on Revenue Dr Hafeez Shaikh and senior officials of the finance division and informed them that he was taking leave for an indefinite period.

But Finance Secretary Nadeem Kamran Baloch, who also holds the portfolio of revenue division, told Dawn that he did not know whether Mr Zaidi had gone on leave for an indefinite period. “I have been told that he is on leave due to his brother’s illness,” the secretary said.

According to sources, Mr Zaidi had not been coming to office for the last couple of days and did not take up any issues during the last 10 days after assuming office. There is uncertainty within the FBR whether he will continue and, if not, who will replace him. The FBR has missed revised revenue collection target for the first half year of the current fiscal by a wide margin of Rs287 billion against the target of Rs2.367 trillion despite several measures and double-digit consumer inflation.

The International Monetary Fund technical team will start review of the performance of FBR revenue collection from next week.

Adviser on Finance Hafeez Shaikh had asked the FBR chairman to send home all those officers who were not performing, referring to the low revenue collection and lack of progress on reform measures. However, no officer was transferred.

Similarly, Mr Shaikh had asked the FBR chief to share with him a plan on revenue collection and registration of traders, especially big retailers, with the sales tax department.

The fake refund scam is another area where the FBR has yet to take action against senior officials involved in it.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020