ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel on Tuesday issued letters of displeasure to the government over continuous absence of its economic team from its meetings and poor response about movement of hundreds of unidentified vehicles at the Afghan border.
The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue announced in writing at the end of its second meeting in as many days that “Legislative Business (Government Bills) will not be considered without the attendance of the Adviser for Finance [Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh] in the Committee meeting”.
The meeting, presided over by PTI MNA Faiz Ullah, also expressed its displeasure over the absence of the finance secretary, National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) president and representative of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and directed the secretary of the committee to send a displeasure note to all concerned, it added.
The members took notice of the fact that Dr Shaikh had not attended a single meeting of the committee since he assumed the charge of finance adviser in April last year. Some members suggested moving a privilege motion against the adviser while others called for inviting the minister in-charge — currently Prime Minister Imran Khan holds the portfolio — to the meeting.
Also irked by poor response about movement of hundreds of unidentified vehicles at Afghan border
Faiz Ullah, however, decided that the adviser should be given another opportunity to attend the panel’s meeting before moving a privilege motion provided all members agree to exercise the option. PTI members of the committee Aftab Siddiqui and Jamil Ahmed also supported the proposal of privilege motion against the adviser if he was unwilling to attend its meetings.
The committee also expressed displeasure over the absence of the SBP governor and the NBP president despite specific agenda items pertaining to their organisations. The committee directed the NBP chief to appear before the committee at its next meeting along with record of recruitments in the bank.
Discussing “embezzlement scam occurred in customs at Torkham border”, Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Javed Ghani reported that a total of 441 trucks had reportedly crossed the border without customs clearance and the inspector, principal appraiser, superintendent, gate keeper and drivers of the customs department were involved in the scandal. Likewise, 113 other vehicles and 900 pickups reportedly carrying dry fruits, fresh fruits and vegetables also crossed the border without customs clearance.
He said a joint investigation team had been constituted which had completed its investigations and submitted a report on May 18. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had also been asked for investigations but no response had been received from it.
Mr Ghani said the major findings of the JIT pertained to 113 identified vehicles which crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan, wherein neither goods declaration nor record of deposit of leviable duties/taxes were found. Accordingly, criminal cases/FIRs were lodged against the culprits.
The committee expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of the FBR in the matter and directed its chairman to submit an inquiry report to the panel in a month. It also asked the FIA to attend the next meeting on the subject. The committee desired that action should be taken against those responsible on the basis of evidence.
Mr Ghani said the Covid-19 standard operating procedures should be relaxed at Iran and Afghan borders. He said Pakistan had allowed Afghanistan to send its goods through Pakistani territory, but Indian goods through Afghan trucks were not allowed. Some members believed that the permission for Afghan goods to reach India would affect Pakistani farmers.
The committee also identified administrative loopholes and procedures adopted by the customs authorities at the Torkham border and directed the FBR to share details about the officers and officials involved in the scam, including actions taken by the FBR against them.
The committee also expressed displeasure over the examination of valuation, rulings and procedures adopted by the customs authorities. Some members expressed concern about the role of Director Valuation, Customs, Shafiq Ahmed Latki, who explained his position over determining of valuation.
However, the committee directed the FBR chairman to look into the complaints received with regard to valuation and ruling issued by the director valuation.
The committee referred the matter to the sub-committee already appointed under the convenership of MNA Faheem Khan.
Dr Mohammad Ashfaq Ahmed, member (inland revenue), briefed the committee on the fire incident at the Faisalabad Regional Tax Office.
The committee said legal action against the culprits should be accelerated.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2020