BUSINESS-FRIENDLY CBR

CBR's image in the past was by large that of the policeman and it was frowned at and feared by the taxpayer and the investor

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Islamabad

Mar 29 - Apr 04, 2004

New Chairman of the Central Board of Revenue (CBR) Abdullah Yousuf has expressed his determination to reform the organization and make it business-friendly. Addressing a news conference after assuming his new responsibilities, he vowed to remove impediments in the way of domestic and foreign investment.

Mr. Abdullah Yousuf, took over as Secretary Revenue and Chairman, Central Board of Revenue last week. He brings with him vast experience of public service of over 30 years. Prior to assuring charge of CBR, he held prestigious position of Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum for many years where he successfully planned and implemented innovative policies to attract foreign investments for oil and gas exploration in Pakistan.

Economic analysts say, appointment of Mr. Abdullah Yousaf has sent right signals to the relevant quarters that the government is determined to carryout the already delayed reforms and restructuring of the revenue collection organization. The fact that Mr. Abdullah is a personal choice of the Finance Minister, makes it amply clear that the new CBR Chief has come with full authority to deliver.

Mr. Abdullah Yousaf, came to lime-light as Managing Director, Utility Stores Corporation in the early phase of his public service. In a short time he established a chain of utility stores throughout the country providing relief to the consumers, with sobering effect on consumer market. He also served as Secretary, Board of Investment in the formative stage of this organization and in that capacity had productive interaction with multinational as well as local companies. As Secretary Privatization Commission, he greatly contributed to framing and implementing of privatization policy of the government. Known for his honesty and integrity, Mr. Abdullah Yousaf is a qualified Chartered Accountant. His vast experience and working relationship with the corporate sector of the country will help him in reforming and restructuring of CBR and improving revenue collection.

The new Chairman, however, is faced with two major challenges on assuming charge. These challenges are a loan request to World Bank of $ 154 million for restructuring of CBR and to justify the contract of Maxwell Stamp, a British-based consultant firm for restructuring hired from the last one and-a-half-year. The outgoing Chairman of CBR, Riaz Malik had sought credit of the World Bank that is still in process but hired the services of the British consultant firm against $ 2 million for 18 months. The contract of Maxwell Stamp is expected to expire by March 15 and the new chairman has to justify the services of this firm prior to renew another contract with the firm.

In addition to this, the new chairman is also believed to look into the services of the five consultant hired on very high packages from the private sector for the restructuring of Audit, Human Resource Development, Taxpayer Education, MIS Fiscal Research and two other sectors of the CBR. So far their contribution for reforming CBR and improving its efficiency has been negligible.

We have seen in the past that the successive governments unfolded their plans to reform and revamp CBR with the objective to enhance revenues, facilitate taxpayer, simplify procedures and eliminate chances of corruption. However, practically there was no meaningful progress towards realization of any of these goals. Similarly, numerous initiatives were taken to attract investment but the situation remained unchanged mainly because of the complicated tax system that gave unlimited discretionary powers to the taxation officers. CBR's image in the past was by large that of the policeman and it was frowned at and feared by the taxpayer and the investor. Credit goes to the Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz for introducing measures aimed at simplification of rules and regulations, reduction in number of taxes and rationalization of tariff. However, a major initiatives is yet to be taken to put image of the CBR in the right perspective.