The Pakistan Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday was the scene of heated debate on a unique question — which is superior, the Supreme Court or parliament – albeit, who prevails on matters of rule of law.
The naivety in the argument was triggered by a resolution submitted to the committee by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Senator Azam Khan Swati, demanding a briefing from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on parliamentarians who have availed themselves of tax relaxations under a gift scheme.
Senator Saleem Mandviwala, who chairs the committee, informed the members that a reply from the finance ministry claimed that parliament was not authorized to obtain such information.
“This is strange that the FBR can forward this information to the Supreme Court and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), but we are not worthy,” the Senator belonging to PPP said, adding: “The issue is that a department under the purview of this committee has been accused of data tampering, therefore it was our responsibility to seek an explanation from them.”
He said it was unfair that FBR was not ready to brief the committee on a matter that has already been made public.
The matter was referred to FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha, who read out from the law and said it did not authorize parliament to seek tax details from FBR.
The FBR invoked a secrecy clause of the Income Tax Ordinance of 2001, in a bid to avoid sharing of information relating to the Panama case with the Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue.
“Section 216 of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 allows us to give such information to a court of law”, Tariq Pasha, the Chairman of FBR, told the Senate panel. Pasha said that the information about taxpayers’ tax record could not be provided to the committee.
But, the chairman of the committee, Senator Mandviwalla, insisted that Parliament was supreme and could seek information for investigation.
He said this information was already in the public domain and the committee was seeking it through official channels.
The FBR is the second organization publicly accused of tampering with record to influence the Panama case. Earlier, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Zafarulhaq Hijazi was detained on allegations of record tampering.
Both departments are under the administrative control of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
Members of the committee then decided to seek ruling of Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani whether or not the parliamentary panel could probe the allegations against the FBR.
In an unrelated note, a survey recently conducted by Gallup Pakistan on: Credibility of various national institutions, including the entity called ‘Average Pakistani Citizen’, Pakistanis polled responded that the Court, Army, Religious Leaders and Doctors score higher than the Average Citizen; police, FIA and Lawyers scored lower. Interestingly, politicians are rated at exactly the same level as the ‘Average Pakistani Citizen’, the survey report said.