PM Abbasi appoints Haroon Akhtar Khan as federal minister

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday granted the status of a federal minister to his aide on Revenue Haroon Akhtar Khan putting him back in the driving seat to implement the tax agenda ahead of general elections this year.

The government notified Arif Ahmad Khan as the new Federal Secretary Finance.

Arif Khan was serving as Secretary Economic Affairs Division (EAD).

The information Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera may succeed Arif Khan in EAD as he will retire in March 2019.

With the status of federal minister Haroon shall have the same status as Miftah Ismail who was recently appointed as advisor to PM on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs with federal minister status.

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Ismail, however, will still officially have the portfolio of Revenue with  Haroon calling the shots on tax matters after the PM.

“Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi has been pleased to grant the status of Federal Minister to Haroon Khan as Special Assistant to the PM on Revenue, with immediate effect”, according to a notification of the Cabinet Division.

PM Abbasi declared reforming the Federal Board of Revenue his topmost priority.

The government also wants to take some corrective measures to appease the estranged business community has been irked by the withholding of genuine tax refunds.

The Tax Reforms Implementation Committee which was headed by  Haroon has already presented over 15 reform measures to the PM.

These included measures to broaden the tax base, facilitating Pakistanis to bring back offshore wealth by offering them amnesty and cleansing tax machinery.

The authorities want to clear pending tax refunds in the next 45 days that will be first challenge for incoming Haroon.

The sources said that the FBR could reduce annual tax collection target of Rs4.013 trillion to the extent the FBR would repay the refunds.

With the estimated size of withheld refunds being exceeding Rs300 billion, however, the government was keen to return only sales tax refunds, ranging from Rs90 billion to Rs100 billion.

With the second option being to repay the refunds via borrowing.

This however, would be a controversial option as borrowings cannot be treated as revenue for the government.

A report commissioned by the Federal Tax Ombudsman blamed former finance minister Ishaq Dar from blocking genuine refunds of taxpayers in order to inflate revenues.

The sources said that the FBR was also finalising the offshore tax amnesty scheme to lure foreign wealth of Pakistanis who are now feeling squeeze due to global move against tax heavens.

Among the names mentioned in media as possible finance chiefs are Miftah Ismail and Sartaj Aziz

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