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‘Had Imran-led govt continued, Pakistan’s economy would have collapsed’



The country would have economically collapsed had the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government completed its tenure, former Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) boss Shabbar Zaidi said.

The PTI’s tenure was cut short in April 2022, when the government was ousted after Khan was removed as the prime minister through a no-confidence motion, paving the way for Shehbaz Sharif and allies to come into power.

One of the primary reasons behind ousting the Khan-led government was economic mismanagement and the increasing burden of inflation on the masses, as claimed by the now rulers, who were then in opposition.

“Had this […] government continued, the party would not have even secured 5% votes as the country would have economically collapsed,” Zaidi told Geo News’ Shahzeb Khanzada.

The tax collection body’s ex-chief said he had advised Khan to rectify his government’s shortcomings and “settle things, but he was not in the mood of listening [to anyone]”.

Although Zaidi — whose stint as the federal tax collection body’s chief lasted from 2019-2020 — mentioned that when he pointed out the economic crises Pakistan was headed towards during PTI’s tenure, Khan had removed Asad Umar as the finance minister.

‘You cannot do this’

Zaidi also spoke about influentials forcing him to drop the cases against people close to them or those who were politically important.

The economist said he “mistakenly” sent a notice to a landowner in Multan. “I asked him to reconcile his wealth with his agricultural income.”

In response, 40 parliamentarians “barged into my office”, led by then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, he said.

Zaidi said ex-lawmaker Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dreshak, during the meeting, told him that the people in his office were “MNAs from South Punjab, and the government cannot continue without them”.

“I have seen a lot of governments […] leave him […] you’re a kid now,” Zaidi quoted Dareshak as telling him.

The ex-FBR chief said he tried bringing the tobacco industry people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the frontier regions into the tax net, but he faced strong opposition from then-NA speaker Asad Qaiser.

“You cannot do this…you cannot enter our areas,” Zaidi quoted Qaiser as saying.

Tonnes of gold smuggled into Pakistan annually

Shabbar Zaidi claimed that about 4 to 4.5 tonnes of gold is smuggled into Pakistan annually. “Not even a single tola of gold is imported [in Pakistan]. Where does this gold come from?” he questioned.

“Jewellers had agreed to pay taxes but they cannot show the invoice of gold so how could they pay taxes?”

He said that the jewellers are using smuggled gold.

The former FBR chairman said that India curbed the smuggling of gold by relaxing import policies and ensuring implementation of them.

Zaidi said that he faced resistance from retailers when he tried to bring them under the tax net. “Retailers are a market mafia and when we take action against them, they go on a shutterdown strike.”

He added: “None of our governments is powerful enough to fight with [retailers]. The tax system cannot be fixed unless you bring them under the tax net.”

The traders in Karachi, he also said, had “thrashed” him. “They [retailers] said that no one in the market would pay tax.”

The ex-FBR chairman added that the traders are not willing to involve in any kind of documentation.

‘Next IMF bailout package will be tough’

Zaidi feared the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would place tough conditions for the next bailout programme in March 2024.

Responding to a question, the former FBR chief said: “Pakistan will not default until December 2023.” He, however, sees a “difficult situation” in the next year.

The IMF has yet not placed stringent conditions and added that Pakistan would be facing a tough time in securing the next IMF deal following the expiry of the current nine-month $3 billion stand-by deal.

“The major concern is that the fund is demanding [Pakistan] to raise funds from the market.”

To another query, the ex-FBR boss added that he already said that whoever would win the next elections “would be very unlucky from the economic point of view”.

He was of the view that the IMF programme saved the country from default but created very tough conditions for the masses. “All political parties are making tall claims but nobody is taking a look at Pakistan’s balance sheet.”

‘Didn’t lodge a single case against anyone’

Zaidi also said former accountability aide Shahzad Akbar never directly asked him to lodge a case against anyone but he would show “files to then-prime minister Imran Khan”.

“I did open a single person’s case in my entire tenure,” he said.

The former prime minister, he said, would discuss with him what Akbar told him about the alleged wrongdoing in tax-related matters. “I used to say sir leave this case.”

However, he clarified that the PTI chief never asked him to file a case against anyone. “He [former PM] would only say Shahzad Akbar brought the files, I used to say, ok sir, give me the file, I will see.”

He said filing a tax case involves a lot of technicalities.

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