Monday, May 3, 2010

Pakistan, FBR, IRS

Will FBR chief follow his own advice?
By Khaleeq Kiani
Monday, 03 May, 2010
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ISLAMABAD, May 2: When the government changed the service cadres of 505 senior officials of the customs and excise group to create Inland Revenue Service (IRS) a couple of months back, Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Sohail Ahmad had described them as “lower than the lowest” for protesting in their personal interest.

A few months down the road, he found himself in the same imbroglio. He was junior to 14 grade-21 officers working already in the FBR when he took over the coveted post last year by superseding 25 officers of his own service cadre – District Management Group. He had very proudly told his colleagues that he had never challenged a government decision.

In the middle of budget preparations, Mr Ahmed has now sought four-month leave and indicated to leave the bureaucracy after being demoted to grade-21 following the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment. “He should respect the court decision and accept government orders to work in grade-21 as he had advised others to do a few months back,” a senior FBR official said.

But he is trying to pressure the government in the most crucial time of the fiscal year when the revenue collection machinery is going through reform process and the tax collection targets need to be met and future estimates to be finalised. It is not customary to have a change of guard at the FBR when budget exercise is in full swing but the government has been put in an awkward position through his smart move to get re-promoted before all others demoted, another officer said.

Addressing the officers of the income tax and customs and excise group recently, Mr Ahmad quoted the translation of a verse from the holy Quran that “Human beings have been allowed by God to become the best of best but they have also been allowed by God to become lower than the lowest.” And then he said the “low side is remaining focused on and getting too much into questions of your seniority and your career.”

Mr Ahmad had told the officers, including some of his seniors-in-the-past, that their concerns could be addressed by the anomalies committee or the service tribunal or even the courts: “But if you keep focused on this and start forgetting your main role for what the government has recruited you, you will not be doing the duty…it is not just rising in life, fine, in terms of status and grades but also, you know, serving the country, serving the government…even senior officers, some of you are doing this. So this is what I see as lower than the lowest,” transcripts of his speech available with Dawn reveal.

Speaking about the concerns shown by the disgruntled officers for losing seniority and career progression, the chairman FBR had advised them to speak their minds at different forums but once the decision has been taken, they have to comply and should not raise questions of national interest because that was the job of the government to determine.

Discouraging the officers to challenge government decisions about merger of various cadres of the FBR, he said the government has absolutely all the right to design in any way its functioning, reorder its functioning, within FBR and even outside FBR. “I do not think that any court of law can challenge this, right of the government to re-order the way it transacts its business. What you can probably challenge is my seniority, my promotion, my merit. Your merit finished once you enter the civil service.”

The FBR chief had also criticised the officers for being engaged in the questions of promotions and seniority and said: “I have not done that in all my life”.

It may just be a turn of destiny that he had to do all those things he had advised others not to do and that he had “not done in all his life.”

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