Faster Plus is the world’s best system for ST refunds, Dr Ashfaq

Member (IR Operations) Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Dr. Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmed has said that the automated FASTER plus system for Sales Tax Refund claims, which has become operational since October 1, 2020, was one of the best methods of the world in which the refund claims are processed within 42 to 72 hours without any human intervention as soon as the claimant completes the eight steps required by the system for processing refund claims.

Exchanging views at a meeting during his visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) on Saturday, he said, “I can assure you that we have reviewed such products of all regional countries but Faster Plus is better than any regional country and is one of the best refund system in the world.”

Chairman Businessmen Group & Former President KCCI Siraj Kassam Teli, Vice Chairmen BMG Zubair Motiwala and Anjum Nisar, President KCCI Shariq Vohra, Senior Vice President Saqib Goodluck, Vice President KCCI Shamsul Islam Khan and KCCI Managing Committee Members attended the meeting.

Dr. Ashfaq Ahmed informed that to facilitate payment of Income Tax Refunds, a similar system was being formulated so that IT Refunds could also be settled within the minimum possible time while all the previous IT refund claims were being settled as soon as possible. “As the government is highly committed and we are paying at a tremendous pace, the entire IT refund backlog will settled by the end of this year”, he added.

Member IR elaborated that FASTER plus has fully addressed all kinds of interruptions and stuck up issues which were being suffered by the taxpayers in the previous system. The system has just eight checks before processing the refund claims and if there is a problem, the system will automatically notify the defects in refund claim, it will give solution and also notify that who could resolve the issue. Subsequently, the applicant can resubmit refund claim any time after getting the problem addressed and when, the Faster Plus gives a green signal, it becomes FBR’s responsibility to process the refund at the earliest.

He informed that over the past six months, the FBR has released refund claims of Rs250 billion, which was an unprecedented amount. “Although things are improving and we are trying our best to facilitate the taxpayers but the country deserves a much better public finance system hence, efforts are underway at FBR’s head office where we work for 18 hours a day to resolve the issues being faced by the existing taxpayers, besides exploring ways and means of how to enhance the country’s tax base. There is a realization now to broaden the tax base which would ease the pressure on existing taxpayers”, he added.

Referring to new rules announced by FBR for video surveillance, Dr. Ashfaq Ahmed said that this was in favor of the industrialists as it would avoid human intervention which usually leads to malpractices. “As technology is the only solution, we decided to implement video analytics and it was heartening to see that many industries from different sectors want to get the video analytics implemented in their business premises at the earliest. This technology would electronically transmit data to the control room at FBR’s head office which would electronically aggregate all the details and transform the info into numbers. “The products in Schedule III are subjected to video surveillance while any other item which is not in Schedule III can also be subjected to video analytics if felt necessary.”

Responding to concerns expressed over numerous laws and policies, he said that Federal Board of Revenue was not responsible for framing these laws and policies as the department was just an enforcement outfit. All the legal points and policy-related issues must be raised in front of the parliamentarians and we will also forward them but it was eventually the parliament which is empowered to amend laws.

Speaking on the occasion, Chairman BMG & Former President KCCI Siraj Kassam Teli pointed out that although the video surveillance system implemented by the FBR, which covers all the products in Schedule III, might be a good system but it was not a wise move and the FBR was unlikely to achieve the desired results. Due to trust deficit between the FBR officials and taxpayers, the business & industrial community fears that this initiative would open more avenues for corruption. “Such computerized system had been introduced in the past which worked perfectly well in the beginning and efficiently dealt with corruption but later on, such computerized system and softwares were deliberately altered and modified so that the corrupt officials could get back the opportunity to harass taxpayers in order to gain personal benefits”, he added.

He was of the opinion that tax theft cannot be done alone as it was being done in connivance with corrupt FBR officials who even suggest tax dodging measures so that they could get their share. “It is really unfortunate that no mechanism exists to take action against such corrupt officials and it is the taxpayers who face immense hardships because of notices and litigations.”

Referring to a whopping amount of Rs1.856 trillion stuck up revenue because of litigations, Siraj Teli said that it was a matter of grave concerns that so many cases were in litigation and every year the number of such cases keeps on rising while this year’s, Rs1.856 trillion must be the highest. “To deal with this serious issue, the FBR must form a committee comprising reputable businessmen, experts and honest FBR officials who must sit together and bifurcate all these cases which would divide them into 3 to 4 categories. The first category of such cases will be of those individuals who were running fake businesses while the second category will be of those who were trapped into litigations by FBR officials in order to achieve the given target and show higher receivables while the third category will be those taxpayers who were actually facing genuine taxation issue. These genuine cases should be referred to Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee (ADRC) so that the issues could be amicably resolved without going into litigation.

He was of the opinion that countless discretionary powers have been granted to FBR officials through numerous insertions in Finance Bill every year which are not intended to improve the country’s tax revenue collection but to be used as a tool for arm-twisting and harassing the taxpayers. “Any initiative taken honestly by Member IR will be fully supported by Karachi Chamber but anything against the loyal taxpayers will be strongly opposed”, he assured.

Earlier, President KCCI M. Shariq Vohra, in his remarks, requested Member IR to share all SROs and Notifications with KCCI and other trade bodies before issuing as there is no such law that prohibits FBR from sharing these SROs with the representatives of the business & Industrial community. “If these SROs and notifications are shared with KCCI, we will be proud to review them and seek opinion from the experts available at KCCI. We have great expertise in taxation, it is only a matter of FBR’s confidence on Karachi Chamber whose inputs will be helpful for the FBR and the economy of the country”, he added.

He said that due to coercive nature of the regulatory regime, the number of taxpayers has shrunk from 2.8 million to 2.4 million because keeping in view the hardships being faced by existing taxpayers, majority of the people all over the country prefer to stay away from the tax net.

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