Whether or not a businessman should be controlling the tax administration is an issue of political ethics but the situation of conflict of interest has led to murder of justice, merit and fairplay in promotion of senior tax officers

By Hussain Saqib

Those in the business of political wheeling-dealing have a different kind of Midas Touch; while they make tons of money from whichever institution they lay their hands on, they ultimately discredit, deface, mutilate and destroy it beyond repair and recognition. The first institution that was systematically destroyed by the politicians in 1970s was civilian bureaucracy whose members were stripped of the constitutional protection which is enjoyed by civil servants everywhere else. The idea was to subjugate State machinery and use it for personal gains and as a conduit to stash ill-gotten billions made through corrupt practices. PIA, Pakistan Steel, Pakistan Railways, WAPDA and other public sector enterprises are glaring examples of how greedy and incompetent politicians at the helm can be death knell for otherwise vibrant and profit making enterprises.

Constitutional protection to civil servants is the key to independence of State institutions

It has, therefore, become a time-tested dictum that the illiterate and corrupt politicians should have no role in placement and promotion of civil servants. The institutions which are no-go area for politicians’ whims are the most successful and effective but those which operate, not on system but, on personal whims are already doomed to fail and eventually go extinct. Mercifully, one institution is still intact because, despite their wailing and bickering, they could not subjugate it to lay their hands on. And that institution, to the horror of politicos, has proved to be the backbone keeping the country together.

There is a system of civil servants’ initial appointment and promotion through FPSC and Central Selection Boards, which, as long as it remains out of political influence, functions smoothly. There are no systemic inadequacies in the working of the system. But when promotion becomes a reward, not for the quality of output in the assigned job as appraised by the system, but the personal service to the decision-makers, it corrupts the institutions.

There is a High-powered Selection Board for promoting civil servants to the top-grade of B-22. The Board consists of mainly the ministers and is headed by the Prime Minister himself. In order to regulate the working of this Board and save the civil servants from political victimization, Pakistan’s apex court has clearly ruled that promotion to BS 22 can take place strictly and only on merit on the basis of criteria set forth for promotion. That leaves no room for whimsical discretions a laroyal decrees and exercise of executive authority outside the boundaries of law.

According to press reports, however, this Board has recently promoted some members of tax administration to the top grade clearly in violation of the principles of merit and justice. Those who are senior and have impeccable record of service have been denied a well-earned promotion and those who are junior in the order of seniority have been promoted. And this all has been done in violation of orders of the apex court. The contempt with which the political rulers treat the system was evident from the fact that proceedings of the Board were conducted in the absence of head of tax administration, Chairman FBR, and the Omni-present minister for finance who allegedly is not even a member, sat on the Board to decide the promotions.

It has been alleged that outcome of the proceedings of the Board were already known to the victims of this outcome. A special assistant to the PM, who is a businessman and should have no right to control the Revenue Division, had threatened upright officers with denial of promotion if they didn’t fall in line. It is obvious that in such a situation no honorable and upright civil servant would be awarded promotion irrespective of his legitimate right and genuine expectation. Whether or not a businessman should be controlling the tax administration is an issue of ethics and is not a subject of this piece but the situation of conflict of interest allowed by the government has led to massacre of justice, merit and ethics in promotion of senior tax officers.

If nothing else, Prime Minister of Pakistan can make one valuable contribution to be remembered even when he is no longer in office; he should declare all public institutions as no-go area for politicians who are known for greed, cronyism, corrupt practices, mediocrity and every misdeed under the sky. The institutions like FBR are particularly sensitive as only upright and honourable tax managers can bring about some visible change in the tax culture. Whether or not the PM heeds to this critical demand will remain a billion-dollar question, at least for the foreseeable future.

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