Members of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance, irked by Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh’s avoidance of the committee’s meeting, demanded his resignation on Monday.
The members forced their chairman Khawaja Sohail Mansoor to write a letter to the prime minister seeking Dr Hafeez’s removal. They wanted his replacement by elected member.
Bushra Gohar of the ANP and Kashmala Tariq of the PML-Q (Likeminded) said the ‘imported finance minister’ had no time to listen to parliamentarians’ proposals to put the economy on right track.
“Mr Shaikh is like his predecessor Shaukat Aziz and will leave the country like him with his suitcase,” they said. “We really need to get rid of these suitcase economists.”
Ms Gohar said the finance minister was available only at the time of budget speech.
MQM’s Abdul Rashid Godil, PML-N’s Nighat Perveen Mir and PPP’s Shahnaz Wazir Ali supported their fellow parliamentarians to make the finance minister answerable to the committee on financial issues.
The committee also decided to send a letter to National Assembly Speaker Dr Fahmida Mirza in this regard. It will write a letter to the establishment secretary for making the presence of finance secretary mandatory in the committee’s meetings.
The first item on the agenda related to disclosure of parliamentarians’ tax returns data. The members came hard on junior tax officers of the Federal Board of Revenue when they informed the committee that their chairman could not attend the briefing.
The parliamentarians questioned the appointment of FBR chairman and said he had been imposed on the tax department. They said it was a matter of concern that these ‘outsiders’ never took parliamentarians seriously.
The FBR officials had no answers to most of the questions put to them. Member Administration Hasnain Ahmad, who is a non-cadre official, was deputed to brief the parliamentarians. He sought 10 days to submit a report, but said the disclosure of data regarding parliamentarians’ returns was not allowed under the tax ordinance.
Bushra Gohar said the report on parliamentarians’ tax-related data was “erroneous and misleading”. “I file returns regularly, but my name was included in the list of non-filers,” she said, adding that parliamentarians had no objection to the printing of data, but it should be ‘factually correct’.
On an average Rs48,000 has been deduced at-source from the salary of every parliamentarian. MNA Abdul Rashid Godil asked the FBR officials why this amount was not reflected against their names in the tax data. They had no answers, but said the issue was under investigation.
Committee chairman Khawaja Sohail asked the FBR to get a report published in leading newspapers and run it on electronic media that all parliamentarians paid taxes. The FBR member administration agreed to do so.
Kashmala Tariq said there should be an audit of leading NGOs which received huge funding, but paid no taxes.
She asked the FBR officials why they had not sent letters to the parliamentarians for the past four and a half years to get their tax documents upgraded. She pointed out that FBR’s online submission of returns was cumbersome and not user-friendly.
PIA CHIEF: The committee also expressed concern over the absence of PIA chairman who had sent his junior officers to brief the committee on the airline’s financial relations with Shaheen Airline.
The committee asked PIA to submit within 10 days a report based on the questions raised by the parliamentarians.
The committee was informed that manpower for each PIA aircraft was 482, compared to 144 in Shaheen, a private airline. The total number of employees in PIA is more than 18,000. There are 600 pilots — 23 pilots per plane.
The committee was informed that Haj fare on the same distance in India and Bangladesh is lower than in Pakistan.
The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the allocation of Haj quota, but the parliamentarians discussed instead the performance of the national flag carrier.