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ISLAMABAD: Advisor to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Hussain on Friday unveiled the government's comprehensive plan aimed at restructuring of Pakistan Railways, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), and the Pakistan Steel Mills, along with transparent appointment and promotion policies of heads of various state institutions.

Talking to media persons along with Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz, the advisor said the purpose of talking in to brief media about the level of appointments and restructuring of heads of various institutions.

He said it is very easy to bring down or weaken an institutions but it takes a long time to rebuild institutions. He said there is a need to build a structure in the country, which is in accordance with the requirements of time, and can do its work with great efficiency, adding that the work is under way in this regard.

He said that some institutions act as the backbone of our economy and the largest of them is the FBR. The automation, IT systems and integration of the FBR's data would ultimately broaden the tax base and the government would be in a position to reduce rates of taxes and lessen burden on the existing taxpayers.

He said that making the FBR stronger through improved tax collection will be immensely beneficial for the country.

"The government has decided to expand the tax base under a fully-automated system. Out of 2.5 million taxpayers, one million people neither declare their sources of income nor do they pay their actual taxes," he said.

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has already introduced Fully Automated Sales Tax e-Refund (FASTER) system for five export-oriented sectors to promptly issue sales tax refunds to exporters by electronically Communicating Refund Payment Orders (RPOs). The FBR has paid refunds to the tune of Rs250 billion under the new system.

The income tax refund payment system is also being automated. While talking about the promotion policy, he said that Prime Minister Imran Khan's utmost priority is to follow merit and not reference or even seniority.

Whatever appointments we make to the heads of the institutions should be based on transparency and merit, for which we took a summary in the cabinet, he said. He said the requests of the heads of the institutions are received and the list of names is shortened and then a panel of 10 or 12 men and women is formed and sent to the independent selection board.

Dr Hussain said that this board prefers to compile a list of names, which goes to the cabinet.

"Earlier, it was the prerogative of the prime minister but now we will discuss and approve it jointly in the Cabinet," he said.

He said that for the first time in Pakistan work has been done under open merit due to which 40 to 45 people have been selected so far and no one has challenged it.

"Among them are overseas Pakistanis who used to tell me that we never thought we could come to this job without a recommendation and without anyone asking," said the institutional reform adviser.

Dr Hussain said that the officers who get promotions through the Central Selection Board, and Shibli Faraz is a member of it. He said that no one was promoted on the basis of seniority or at anyone's request, the last selection board was challenged, adding that Justice Athar Minallah gave its decision saying that it was transparent and there was no need for judicial intervention.

He said that now people have started working that if we do not work we will not get promotion whereas, before, there was no distinction, and every person got promotion on the basis of seniority whether he was eligible or not.

Dr Hussain said Pakistan Railways will be divided into five companies under the restructuring plan to enhance its performance. One of the five companies will comprise a regulator, which will be independent of Pakistan Railways, and it will regulate safety measures and take action on accidents, he added.

He said second company will look after ML-1, the third company will take care of railways track and be solely supervised by the government, while fourth and fifth companies will deal with freight and passenger issues, respectively.

The advisor said a package has been prepared to make Pakistan Steel Mills functional. He said under the package the PSM will be handed over to a private company to enhance its production by up to three million tons.

Regarding plans to restructure PIA, Dr Ishrat Hussain said total strength of employees will be slashed from existing 14,000 to 7,000 by introducing a voluntary separation scheme.

Replying to a question, the advisor said that it is government's plan to provide around 3,500 regular and contractual employees of the Pakistan International Airlines with "voluntary separation" from the service scheme.

"According to which, if they availed it they will be given promising benefits, if they do not avail it, they can keep going," he said.

Talking about reforms in the FBR, the advisor said automation is being introduced to reduce human interaction between the tax officials and the taxpayers, which will ensure transparency and enhance people's trust.

The integration of data including third-party data would disclose actual income and expenditures of filers as well as non-filers. Meanwhile, Shibli Faraz maintained that at present the government is funding all existing institutions in the country, saying that restructuring might make the government unpopular, but the steps are being taken to improve these institutions.

He said the state institutions have lost their credibility to continuous politicization. To counteract the politicization menace, which has affected people's confidence in institutions, the incumbent government is ensuring recruitments on merit strictly, he added.

He underscored that these institutions are often not found doing what they are supposed to do, suggesting political affinity due to their recruitments in the first place.

There are many state offices including Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan, which are fraught with unethical recruitments that he suggested caused people to lose trust in them.

"We are striving for improving the situation in the country, however, the opposition parties are only serving their personal interests to keep their redundant politics alive," he said.

Faraz stated that a reshuffle in the federal cabinet can take place at any time, but there is no specific timeframe for this.

"It is the prerogative of the prime minister, when Cabinet reshuffle would be done, you would know," he informed media.

Moreover, the minister said Pakistan did relatively better than many countries in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak.

He said that novel coronavirus is not an assumed idea or figment of imagination but is a real virus which is spreading incessantly.

He urged the opposition to rationalise their approach and stop their political in view of surge in Covid-19 positive cases in the country.

In a response to another question regarding high price of sugar at Utility Stores, he said that the price at USC outlets has to be realistic given the relatively higher price in the market.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020