President apologises to pensioner over long wait

Published January 17, 2022
A photo of President Dr Arif Alvi. — DawnNewsTV/File
A photo of President Dr Arif Alvi. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: An 82-year-old man, who had to wait 15 months for a tax refund of a meagre amount, has received an apology from President Arif Alvi himself, who criticised the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for treating him in a matter meant to “irritate and humiliate the aging pensioner”.

Although the amount claimed by former government employee Abdul Hamid Khan on Oct 19, 2020 only amounted to Rs 2,333 — in lieu of advance tax deductions in telephone and mobile phone bills — Mr Alvi said he was dismayed over Mr Khan’s maltreatment by the FBR and directed the board’s chairman to take punitive action “against the entire chain of decision-makers” involved in the case.

According to a Presidency official, Mr Khan submitted the requisite documents showing advance tax deduction in his telephone and mobile phone bills, along with an e-application, on Oct 19, 2020.

He waited two months for a response and then filed another application, this time to the FBR chairman, on Dec 24, 2020.

Punitive action against entire chain of FBR’s decision-makers ordered

Then, on Jan 21, 2021, he submitted all the relevant certificates to the FBR, but the unit officer rejected his refund claim on Jan 29 on the grounds that the applicant had failed to furnish the original certificates required for authentication.

The complainant then took up the matter with the federal tax ombudsman (FTO) for the redressal of his grievance, who investigated and ordered the FBR on June 2, 2021 to revisit the impugned order and pass a fresh order under section 170(4) of the income tax ordinance, after hearing out the complainant, as per law.

The ombudsman also ordered that disciplinary proceedings should be initiated against the official who passed the order that dragged the aging taxpayer into unnecessary litigation. Consequently, the FBR filed a response with the president against the ombudsman’s order on June 24, 2021.

When the case landed in the Presidency, it was referred to a legal consultant — a retired judge of the Supreme Court — who gave his findings and referred the case to the president on Jan 13, 2022.

According to the Presidency, Mr Alvi took the decision the day he received the pensioner’s case, rejecting FBR’s stance and upholding the FTO decision.

He said the complainant had admittedly furnished copies of advance tax, adding that: “In case the unit officer was not satisfied with copies of the certificates, he could have not only got the same verified from PTCL and cell [phone] companies, but verification was also possible through online systems.”

Dr Alvi observed that it was the responsibility of the duty officer to get the deduction of tax verified from the deducting authorities, irrespective of the fact whether the certificates were originals or copies. The president termed the failure of the officer to verify the bills from PTCL and the concerned cell phone company “shirking responsibility” and “an act of maladministration”.

He also chided FBR for what he called a “pitiful and shameful use of bureaucratic authority”, regretting that the FBR official had wasted the time of his department, the tax ombudsman and the president of Pakistan over a paltry sum of Rs 2,333 and kept the matter lingering on for over a year.

He also deplored the fact that no one in a long chain of bureaucrats in FBR deliberated over the issue to take note of the unfairness, pettiness and superfluous nature of the matter.

“Punitive action must be taken along the entire line of decision-makers in this case and the FBR chairman should ensure that those responsible, in particular, and others, in general, go through courses to teach them priorities and courtesies,” said a statement issued by the Presidency on Sunday.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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