Right to Information

PIC Orders FBR to Disclose Information on Tax Evasion Cases

Islamabad: In a landmark decision, the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to disclose detailed information regarding tax evasion investigations involving prominent enterprises.

The order comes in response to an appeal filed after the FBR failed to provide requested information under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.

The appellant, Azmat Khan, filed a request seeking details on an inquiry conducted by the FBR into the tax practices of three companies: M/s. AKK Enterprises (SMC-PVT.) Limited, M/s. Perfect Craft (SMC-PVT.) Limited, and M/s. Zayyan Trading Co., Karachi. The request specifically sought information regarding the inquiry’s findings, any actions taken against the companies or individuals involved, and the rationale behind any inaction.

The appellant sought answers to several questions, including whether FIRs and criminal proceedings had been initiated against Mr. Junaid Marisori, outcomes of inquiries under the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act, 2010, reasons for the non-registration of M/s. Zayyan Trading Co. with the Sales Tax Department despite significant purchases, and the recovery of any tax amounts from the implicated entities.

The FBR, represented by Syed Shabih Haider, Deputy Director, sought exemption from disclosure, citing sections of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, and the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, which protects certain confidential records. The FBR argued that disclosing the requested information could breach confidentiality and was prosecutable under existing tax laws.

However, the Commission found that the requested information did not fall under exempt categories. The PIC emphasized that the information pertains to tax evasion, which is a public matter, not a personal privacy issue. The Commission highlighted that proactive disclosure of such information is mandated under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, to ensure transparency and accountability in government operations.

“The matter of tax evasion is not pertaining to personal privacy but it is an offense under the law which requires to be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law,” stated the Commission’s order.

The PIC’s decision underscored the government’s commitment to transparency, good governance, and public participation in state affairs. It noted that the FBR is legally obligated to disclose the information proactively and that the provisions cited by the FBR to withhold the information were not applicable in this case.

As a result, the PIC has ordered the Chairman of the FBR and Secretary of the Revenue Division to provide the requested information to the appellant and the Commission within ten days. Additionally, the Commission has endorsed a copy of the order to the Secretary of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, in view of the government’s recent efforts to curb leakages and enhance revenue collection.

This decision is expected to set a precedent for similar cases, reinforcing the public’s right to access information and the government’s duty to maintain transparency in its operations.

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