ISLAMABAD: The attorney general’s office has written a letter to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman over the poor performance of the tax body’s legal teams in courts.

The letter pointed out “mishandling or mismanagement” of cases relating to revenue matters on part of the bureau’s counsels causing heavy revenue losses to the national exchequer.

The letter from the AGP office regretted that when revenue matters are decided against the FBR at the level of appellate tribunals, the bureau’s legal team do not promptly file review applications against the decisions in courts.

Even if reviews are filed, the bureau’s legal representatives show no urgency in obtaining stay orders against tribunals’ decisions for months.

Top lawyer’s office writes to bureau’s head, urges prompt filing of review petitions in case of adverse decisions

In several cases, FBR representatives annoy benches by not appearing in courts despite being served with notices. This also delays the adjudication of the matter as stay orders are passed by the judges, the letter stated.

The AGP office also attached a three-page letter dated May 2 it received from an additional attorney general (AAG) in Karachi which requested for expeditious disposal of pending tax and revenue matters.

The AAG, in their letter, claimed that importers and taxpayers exploit the lethargy of FBR’s legal teams and file prompt petitions before higher courts to comply with tribunals’ orders decided in their favour.

Thus the courts were left with no opt­ion but to order compliance in accorda­n­­ce with law, the AAG stated in the letter.

The AGP office requested the FBR chair­man to nominate an official to coordinate with the AAG and assist them in courts for the effective disposal of cases.

The letter also suggested that FBR’s field formations and departments should be directed to file appeals without waiting for the final day and move urgent stay applications to suspend adverse judgements passed by the tribunals.

The letter explained that in cases where identical petitions were filed by different parties, FBR’s field formations and departments engage different counsels who have no coordination among themselves.

This situation results in “complete chaos”, and cases linger on due to repeated adjournments for one reason or the other.

In addition, such situations not just annoy judges but also burden the exchequer as additional fees are paid to different counsels engaged separately in identical cases.

The letter suggested the bureau engages one senior and counsel in all similar matters and the departmental response be filed only in lead petitions to be adopted in all other connected matters so that cases be decided expeditiously. The letter said different departments of FBR file responses directly in courts without providing it with a copy.

Due to this, AAGs and deputy attorney generals (DAGs) representing the government in the case remain “absolutely clueless” about the FBR’s position and are unable to assist the court, especially on factual matters.

The letter highlighted that when a matter pertains to two or more ministries, the proprietary demands that there should be no conflicting stance in the comments filed by each ministry.

But, a number of petitions are filed with miniatures taking conflicting stands, the letter said, adding that such situations not only annoy judges, but also create difficulties for the AGP office which has to assist the court.

The letter highlighted that in a number of cases services of experienced lawyers are not even required and money shouldn’t be spent on their fees. Such matters can easily be disposed of with the assistance of the AGP office and department representatives.

The letter suggested that FBR should depute officers of Grade 18 or above to regularly appear in courts to ensure timely responses to pending cases.

With the officers’ assistance, most petitions would not even require the engagement of formal counsels and would be disposed of with the assistance of AAG/DAG present in courts, the AGP letter said.

The letter became public a day after FBR agreed to suspend a senior officer who sought an adjournment in a case involving Rs456 million in tax payments pending before the Sindh High Court.

Since taking power, the PM has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction over pending tax cases and ordered FBR to expedite the proceedings.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2024

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