Govt promises to tone down arrest powers of taxmen

Published June 16, 2021
The law minister agreed in principle that it would be inappropriate to arrest a person prior to adjudication and said that provisions to this effect in the income tax, sales tax and customs laws would be reviewed. — APP/File
The law minister agreed in principle that it would be inappropriate to arrest a person prior to adjudication and said that provisions to this effect in the income tax, sales tax and customs laws would be reviewed. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: After a strong objection by the opposition to a provision in the finance bill granting powers to FBR officers to arrest and prosecute people without warrants, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim on Tuesday assured the Senate that the provision would be toned down.

The law minister agreed in principle that it would be inappropriate to arrest a person prior to adjudication and said that provisions to this effect in the income tax, sales tax and customs laws would be reviewed.

The issue was raised in the house by PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman who termed the provision 203-A against the fundamental rights.

“The powers to arrest given to tax officers appear to be a mini-martial law,” she said.

The PPP leader said that the matter was also discussed in the meeting of the Senate Finance Revenue and Economic Affairs Committee which unanimously rejected it and called for removing the provision from the finance bill. She said the meeting was told that the same provision was there in the Customs Act.

The issue was raised in the Senate by PPP leader Sherry Rehman

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani also sought an assurance from the government that no such step would be taken through the back door.

Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani referred to inclusion of the word ‘retail’ in the definition of smuggling under the Customs Act and warned that it would open a Pandora’s box. He said that tax officers would be able to carry out raids at small retail outlets and that would open another door for corruption in the country.

Senator Azam Nazir Tarar of the PML-N also touched upon the issue while taking part in the budget discussion and stressed that arrests in fiscal offences took place after adjudication.

He said that if the provision was allowed to stay as it was, the people accused of concealing their income would be put behind bars without being given the right of hearing. He also criticised the government for imposing 15 per cent sales tax on milk and yogurt and increasing the prices of a number of other essential commodities, including sugar, wheat flour and ghee, and said the budget offered nothing positive for the poor and middle class.

Law Minister Nasim disagreed with the opposition’s stance that the budget was anti-people. “If it is so, why chambers of commerce across the country are praising the budget? With due respect, it is not so,” he remarked.

He also rejected as baseless the charges of fudging figures and imposing anti-people taxes and offered a live debate between economic teams of the opposition parties and the government on the budget with facts and figures. “It is not a challenge, it is a request,” he said.

The minister asked the opposition to point out figures it alleged had been fudged and the taxes it believed were anti-people and said a correction would not be possible with general accusations.

Observing that inflation was a complex issue, he expressed the hope that with the steps under way, a visible change would be there over the next six months.

About allegations of political victimisation of opponents, he said that many of the cases being faced by some opposition leaders had been registered before the PTI came into power. He said that NAB, FIA and anti-corruption departments were independent bodies, adding that the cases were adjudicated upon by the judiciary which was also independent.

Referring to a letter written by the FIA to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, seeking certain details, the law minister said the government had nothing to do with it.

As many as six bills already passed by the National Assembly, including two bills seeking amendments to the Elections Act, were introduced in the house and referred to the Senate’s standing committees concerned.

The bills included Elections (Amend­m­ent) Bill, 2021; Elections (Second Amen­­­dment) Bill, 2021; and a bill to effectually tackle the pervading instances of rape and sexual abuse in respect of women and children through changes in the substantive law.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Bill, 2021, as passed by the National Assembly, will be taken into consideration.

Barrister Ali Zafar of the PTI, while taking part in the budget discussion, though praised the budget saying this had a new economic agenda for Pakistan, yet found faults with some of the proposals.

He pointed out that in the budget there was a proposal for price control mechanism to be put back in place. He said: “I would suggest reconsideration. This has never worked in the past and it will not work in future also.”

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 16th, 2021

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