ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday abolished the government’s criteria for selecting lawyers that defended tax-related cases in courts after it learnt that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was losing nine out of every 10 cases due to the weak panel of lawyers.
The parliamentary watchdog directed the government to hire only those lawyers who have 10-year experience of arguing cases in the high court.
Headed by Syed Khursheed Shah of Pakistan Peoples Party, PAC also asked the FBR to link the fee with the value involved in the case.
Over Rs150 billion worth of tax-related cases are pending at various stages and the FBR is trying to win these by paying Rs30,000 per case fee to a lawyer.
FBR Chairman Tariq Bajwa told PAC that the tax authorities were paying only Rs30,000 in lump sum to the lawyer for a court case. However, there were exceptions where the fee was higher than this amount.
Currently, the Ministry of Law and Justice selects the lawyers on the recommendation of the FBR. Bajwa said recently the FBR put the condition of three-year experience, which PAC termed insufficient for cases worth billions of rupees.
For the accounts committee, the FBR is responsible for selecting a weak panel of lawyers.
A lawyer charging just Rs30,000 cannot stand in front of heavyweight lawyers who charge fees in millions from their clients, said Shah.
Bajwa said at present 700 lawyers were on the panel of the FBR – a number that he said once stood at 1,900.
PAC asked the FBR to reduce the number to 200 but improve the quality by hiring experienced lawyers.
Despite having hundreds of lawyers, the FBR was losing on average nine out of 10 court cases, said Mohsin Farooq, Director General Audit.
For instance, in 2009, as many as 751 appeals were decided out of which the FBR won only 80 cases, showing the winning ratio at only one-tenth.
In 2007, decision on 6,521 appeals came and only 993 cases or 15% of the total were in favour of the FBR.
Bajwa said the FBR went into many cases despite knowing that it did not have sufficient ground to win these cases. “External pressure of various government agencies was a reason for filing appeals against the court cases,” he admitted.
Auditor General of Pakistan Rana Assad Amin said the FBR’s legal wing was weak, saying his office would conduct a special audit to address the issues.
Pakistan has officially admitted in front of the International Monetary Fund that one of the few reasons for not achieving last fiscal year’s tax target was that many revenue measures were challenged in courts by the taxpayers.
The FBR’s poor performance again remained a hot topic in PAC for the second consecutive day.
“FBR chairman enjoys a good reputation but it is of no use, as the field staff is corrupt to the core,” said Rana Afzaal Hussain of the PML-N.
A grade-17 officer at the FBR makes billions of rupees as he moves up the ladder, said Hussain.
For instance, Javed Iqbal, a grade-17 officer, issued illegal refunds of Rs19.3 million and it was established during investigations that the officer was involved in fraud. The FBR did not effectively pursue the case and the officer managed to get relief from the Supreme Court, said the DG Audit.
The DG said the FBR not only promoted him but also appointed him at a prized position in Faisalabad. PAC has sought a detailed report on the case from the FBR chairman.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2015.
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