FTO spells out tax reforms agenda

Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera Thursday highlighted his tax reform agenda, including speedy justice/facilitation to the aggrieved taxpayers, implementation of FTO orders by Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), paperless environment, revamping of the organization and a set of reform measures to document economy and discourage cash economy.

Talking to Business Recorder here on Thursday at the FTO Office, Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera stated that the office of the FTO is planning to implement an effective monitoring system to regularly check whether or not Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has implemented orders of the FTO Office within the prescribed time period.

Since assumption of charge of the post of the FTO he has started active consultation with the FTO advisers and his team of the office to have firsthand knowledge of the nature of complaints, tax laws and all other aspects of the entire tax regime. He said that the timely implementation of the FTO orders by the FBR is one of the top priorities of the FTO. “There is no importance of the FTO orders if not implemented properly and timely by the tax department,” he added.

It would be ensured to provide speedy relief to the aggrieved taxpayers in a speedy manner and in minimum time period. The FTO office has also an advisory role which would be further improved in coming days. Facilitation to the taxpayers would be ensured in genuine cases, Sukhera said.

He said that the software would be installed at the FTO Office in the next three months to monitor status of the implementation of the FTO orders daily. “If I can implement electronic system of filing of FIRs in 711 police stations of Punjab with central database, why can paperless environment not be implemented at the office of the FTO? All police stations in Punjab have been electronically interlinked and a central database has been established. Citizens have now the facility of online filing of FIRs facility. At the same time, a separate criminal database including information about the criminals like picture, fingerprints and other data is accessible to the police officers on instant basis,” he said.

“We would ensure paperless environment at all stages from first stage of filing of complaint till final outcome of the case and issuance of order by the FTO Office. A paperless FTO Office has been visualized,” he said. As Federal Tax Ombudsman his core functions revolve around disposal of complaints of tax maladministration promptly, justly, fairly, independently investigate, and to rectify any injustice done to a taxpayer by actions of the tax employees of Federal Board of Revenue, he said.

The FTO Office also embarked upon developing its own customized Complaint Management Information System (CMIS) software. The upgraded CMIS would be helpful for the complainants, who could track every stage of their complaints; hence, saving their time and further enhancing their confidence in the available relief providing system. The CMIS will also ensure paperless coordination/communication with all the FBR regional offices by providing them links for real time access to the record of complaints.

He said that the reforms in the FTO Office for tax administration are very necessary to ensure transparent working of the tax department. He is planning to suggest a set of tax reform measures to the government to document the economy and discourage cash economy in the country, he said.

He also hinted revamping of the FTO Office by reshuffling of the employees. Honest persons with experience to work and delivery of performance would be given priority during the revamping exercise, he added. He was confident that the ombudsmen appointed from outside the tax office can provide unbiased and speedy justice to the taxpayers.

He quoted the example of commissioner appeal forum which mostly decides cases against the taxpayers, as commissioner appeals are mostly tax officials. A tax official has its own mindset which is difficult to change and an officer from other department can favour taxpayers in genuine and admissible cases without taking side of the department.

When asked about meeting with the FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha, the FTO said that he has started meeting with the tax authorities and has met FBR chairman in this regard. The interaction between the FBR and the FTO office would continue in future. To a query on burnt record of the FTO Office, Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera said that the FTO Office do not have taxpayers record.

“We have record of complaints filed by the taxpayers and FBR responses. All the record is safe because the FTO Office maintains backup of all records,” he said. Similarly, main server containing computerized record of the FTO Office has been placed at a secured location and all record is safe in backup form at the FTO office, he added. He also highlighted importance of Alternate Disaster Recovery Site for storage of record of complaints to ward off any threat of loss of valuable data due to any human mistake or natural calamity.