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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has refused to share information about the assets, income and expenditures (domestic and abroad) of tax officials working in the FBR, as these declarations enjoy confidentiality privilege and disclosure of assets of dependents will be in violation of law.

An application was filed under Article 19A of the Constitution, by tax lawyer Waheed Shahzad Butt, who wanted to know the quantum of wealth/assets of tax officials in Pakistan & abroad on the date of joining of FBR and its status as on June 30, 2021; income declared for last five years and expenditures made in Pakistan as well as abroad.

In its response, the FBR has declared that Article 19A provides right to information in matters of public importance only. The instant request regarding assets/income/expenditures, prima facie, is not a matter of public importance. Requested information enjoying confidentiality privileges under law cannot be divulged.

One month back, Waheed had sought answers to four questions and argued that his application had been rejected without being given due consideration to the law and facts. The FBR has not considered Article 19A and the binding verdicts while deciding requests to public the assets/income of FBR employees.

The FBR order says "All civil servants are required to file their declaration of assets on an annual basis which were retained by parent division/organization and these declarations enjoy confidentiality privilege unless required otherwise by law and desired by competent authority. Article 19A of the Constitution provides right to information in matters of public importance only. The instant request, prima facie, is not a matter of public importance. Rule 13A only deals with the assets of the government servants and not the assets of dependents as it is only the government servant who is being paid from the exchequer. Disclosure of assets of dependents will be a violation of Rule 13A of Conduct Rules, 1964 and contempt of statute.

Rule 13A has two components related to the conduct of civil servant.

One: the Civil Servant who is bound to make the assets public.

Two: the civil servant whose assets are made public. Rule 32 of the Conduct Rules, 1964 mandates that nothing in these Rules shall derogate from the provision of any law relating to the conduct of Government Servants.

Assets and income declared in the annual declaration is a reflection of income tax returns and wealth statement. Section 216(1) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 debars a public servant to disclose any particular that becomes part of annual return.

Violation of Section 216 is a criminal offence for the public servant. Conjoined reading of Rule 32 with Section 216 ousts the applicability of Rule 13A of the Conduct Rules, 1964. Requested information enjoying confidentiality privileges under law cannot be divulged, the FBR added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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