AML law to be amended soon: DAR

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar Wednesday said the government would amend anti money laundering (AML) law soon to further combat tax evasion. Speaking at a seminar “transparency in the public sector; an appraisal,” organised by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting here Wednesday, Dar said tax and energy sectors are government’s top priorities.

The government is working on simplifying the tax system to facilitate taxpayers. Dar stated that anti-corruption system in the Federal Board of Revenue is being strengthened and tax directories are being published and are available on the website of the FBR. Dar said the government is also working with provinces to consolidate the revenue collection and discretionary powers of tax officials are being curtailed. The Finance Minister said there was lot of improvement in the economic situation as compared to 2013.

He said even a worst dictator cannot afford non-transparency in the current age of media. The present government, he said, is more cognisant of the need for transparency and has taken various measures in this regard, which is evident from the performance of the last two and half years. He said the significance of transparency can never be undermined, while basic democracy and good governance demands accountability from government which shows socially responsible behaviour not only from corporations but also of the governance.

He said the government has taken concrete measures to ensure all the decisions and operations are conducted transparently in the larger interest of good governance. Reviewing the performance of last two and a half years, he said the government is committed to bringing forth the transparency of government and public sector, adding that “We hope that 2015 will further improve transparency and governance in the country.” Dar said that websites of ministries are regularly updated including his own ministry and all the details are made available with an easy access. He said the website of the Ministry of Finance contains every detail regarding budgets, economic surveys and surplus issued time to time.

The minister claimed that his team was available to face media to respond to their concessive conducive queries because there was nothing to hide. He said he was proud of unblemished reputation of the government. He said the decisions taken in the Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet are taken in most transparent manners. “No fact is withheld and distorted,” he said while maintaining that the same is the case with other ministries and economic institutions.

He said the government is streamlining its existing policy and mechanism, while making the tax and energy reforms along with strategic private sector participation high on the government priority list. He said the development to keep transparency inventing mechanism system, is under process. Anti money laundering bill will be amended to further combat tax evasion, he said, adding that the government is working on this particular area with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to strengthen its anti-corruption structures including the directorate general of internal audit. With the objective of promoting tax compliance culture in the country, he said the FBR has published tax directory of parliamentarians as well as general people for the fiscal year 2013 and 2014, which is available on the website of the FBR, and can be accessed making Pakistan the fourth country in the globe which has its parliamentarians tax directory.

Dar also referred to former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s statement that “why should they invest their money in the country where its own parliamentarians did not pay tax?” Even then the government decided to publicise the tax returns so that every person files the returns accordingly. He said the government should be responsive to the transparency to eliminate every opportunity for the corruption.

He said the ministry has simplified tax laws and procedures and are working with provinces to consolidate collection of provincial taxes and fees to make it easier for taxpayers to meet their obligations and at the same time eliminate opportunities for corruption by limiting the discretion of tax officials, adding that the government will expand the IRIS (an end-to-end integrated IT system) to all business areas throughout the FBR network of offices to further reduce discretion in the tax administration.

Dar stated that the working of Council for Common Interests (CCI) approved a broad-based strategic private sector participation programme of 69 Public Sector Entities (PSEs), out of which 31 (PSEs) have been earmarked for early implementation by the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP). The aim of the government is to enhance attractiveness and visibility of Pakistan as a favoured investment destination. Strategic private sector participation of any public entity is conducted in consultation with all stakeholders so that transparency as well as rules and regulations are strictly followed and adhered to. Transactions of UBL, ABL, Pakistan Petroleum Limited and HBL have been completed. Financial Advisors for IESCO, LESCO and FESCO have been appointed with regard to the power sector entities and the governance of DISCOs, three GENCOs and NTDC has been transferred to a new Board of Directors and Management. All these transactions have been transparent and open to public scrutiny and, by the grace of Almighty Allah, no objections have been raised.

He said the government is taking all necessary measures to make sure that the CPEC remains transparent throughout the project as it would not only stimulate our economy but would also be recorded in the history as one of the most transparent projects ever undertaken. There will not be the slightest compromise on the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness at any stage of this project.

While recalling a recent reporting in some sections of the media that on assuming charge of government in 2013 the ministry cleared circular debt of the power sector up to Rs 480 billion without any regard for rules and regulation. However, the ministry did not discourage the former Auditor General who spent two years trying to prove that the payment was mala fide. The minister said that special audit report of Rs 480 billion payment is with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which may be taken up any time for examination. The government will accept and implement the verdict of the PAC in letter and spirit, he added.

Similarly, he stated, the issue of Nandipur power project was also highlighted by some sections of the media as if a new scam was brewing up and the government would like to hide facts behind the veil of secrecy. However, the Ministry of Water and Power on its own requested the Auditor General to conduct a special study of the project.

The Auditor General came up with a report giving all the facts of the project. Since this was not a report on the accounts, the Auditor General transmitted it directly to the Ministry of Water and Power but the PAC may call for this study any time for open discussion and the government will have no objection since they are committed to transparency, he said.

He said another important institution responsible for ensuring transparency in the public sector is the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA). While making the PPRA rules applicable all over the country, he ensured that the authority has complete functional autonomy.

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