Palace intrigues by Syed Saadat

THE critics of conspiracy theorists often argue that everything is not a conspiracy but in Pakistan it seems that everything is.

PIA has seen 11 chairpersons being replaced in 10 years, an average of less than one year per chairman. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has seen four in 22 months, an average of less than six months per incumbent. Going by the way the bureaucracy works the new chairperson’s welcome parties are not over yet when he or she receives marching orders to go and attend a series of welcome parties somewhere else.

The latest change in the FBR seems like a chapter right out of a novel based on palace intrigue. The Supreme Court through its verdict in the case of Justice Qazi Faez Isa has directed the board to investigate and submit a report about the source of funding of the foreign properties acquired by the judge’s wife and children within a period of 100 days and the new chairman of the FBR has been appointed by the government for a period of 90 days, and that too when the last chairperson was appointed just a couple of months ago. What should we call it? Horses for courses takes on a whole new meaning here.

Horses for courses takes on a whole new meaning.

Also, there is another catch even for the incoming chairperson Mr Javed Ghani as he has been appointed FBR chairman on a temporary basis, presumably so that he can be replaced without any eyebrows being raised. And if he wants to continue with the prestigious position he occupies then he must prove himself by his performance which might not be directly related to revenue generation. This is because under the leadership of the previous chairperson Nausheen Amjad, the FBR had reportedly exceeded the thrice-revised target of tax collection for 2020. Nevertheless, she was replaced.

Critics might point out that achieving a target that has seen many downward revisions is, in fact, no achievement at all, which is a valid argument. But then, if such a change had been prompted by a lack of performance then the outgoing chairperson would perhaps been made OSD (officer on special duty) rather than being appointed federal secretary which is the pinnacle of the career of our bureaucrats.

Under normal circumstances, these positions are occupied by civil servants from the Pakistan Administrative Service (which in itself is a discriminatory and oligarchic entity) but previous examples tell us that if you want to keep someone from spilling the beans then it is a good idea to appease him or her with something like this. What criterion justifies the appointment of an officer from the income tax department as secretary culture and heritage is beyond one, unless we consider the culture of tax evasion in Pakistan to be a part of the local heritage and culture. Shouldn’t decisions be made on the basis of merit rather than be specific to certain circumstances?

It has been pointed out that the FBR established the international tax directorate general in March 2019, around the same time as the reference against Justice Isa was being prepared. The reference was officially sent out by the president in May 2019. There is nothing wrong with such directorates as long as they are not used as tools of coercion and are not person-specific.

They say that judges speak through their judgements. Where these concern the ones penned by Justice Isa, there is a perception that he cannot be coerced to limit his thought processes to overlook the bitter truth of politics, unlike many leaders in positions of power; he shows no reluctance to speak about the elephant in the room.

Since he is scheduled to become chief justice on Sept 18, 2023, for a period of 13 months, concerns have been voiced about the part of the verdict that seeks an FBR investigation into the source of funding of the aforementioned properties.

Are such developments against a plain-speaking judge a warning to others in the judiciary to not indulge in something which is not in line with the ‘approved’ norms? Time will tell.

Unfortunately, the very act of unleashing a controversy serves the purpose of some parties. Perceptions in this age of social media is all the evidence you need to achieve the desired results. Justice based on perceptions is justice in a hurry and justice in a hurry, is not necessarily just.

Lastly, a disclaimer that must go with this kind of analysis. This is a mere analysis, perhaps a figment of my imagination or an attempt at connecting the dots. Suffice it to say, any resemblance with anything living, dead or moving in any direction like, for example, artillery, is coincidental. I am sure those at the helm of affairs know statecraft much better than I do, as they have shown over many decades of rule in this country in one form or the other.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2020

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