Professionals & humanists par excellence
Dr. Ikramul Haq
“….the raison d’être of establishing special tribunals has been to dispense better quality of justice where people, better trained in particular fields and disciplines could provide quality decisions and resolution of disputes…. Appointing members to these tribunals on political basis or who are otherwise incompetent or have doubtful integrity would prove completely counterproductive…..”—2000 PTCL CL 515
It is a matter of great honour for me that Lahore Tax Bar invited me for today’s full court reference being held in memory of four great professionals and human beings par excellence, Mujeebullah Siddiqui, Inam Elahi Sheikh, Nazir Ahmad and Syed Nadeem Saqlain—who served as members and later elevated as chairmen of this august institution (established on 25th January, 1941). We are remembering these towering personalities when just after four days, this institution is going to complete 79 years of its existence. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), one of the oldest beacons of justice in the Subcontinent was renamed as Appellate Tribunal Inland Revenue (ATIR) on October 28, 2009.
The setting up of the Tax Tribunal in 1941 brought a paradigm shift in the system of redressal of grievance of assessees, now called taxpayers under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, Sales Tax Act 1990 and Federal Excise Act, 2005 that fall in the jurisdiction of this Tribunal.
The scheme of things in the Tribunal at the time of its establishment envisaged complete functional independence of the institution, a high degree of legal and technical expertise of the Members manning the benches, simpler and informal procedures, and inexpensive and quick justice delivery. Unfortunately, successive governments in recent years, after the exit of these great four chairmen, whom we are paying homage and tribute today, muzzled the independence of this great institution that is documented in articles, Finance Bill 2020: Muzzling right to justice, Business Recorder, June 19, 2020 and Platinum jubilee of Tax Tribunal, Business Recorder, January 22, 2016.
It is said that the older the institution of justice, the greater is its sanctity and reverence. Indeed, Mujeebullah Siddiqui, Inam Elahi Sheikh, Nazir Ahmad and Syed Nadeem Saqlain proved it beyond any iota of doubt as many others—their predecessors and successors. With their professional acumen, humility, firmness, competence and unprecedented commitment to dispense justice they will live in our hearts and souls. On this occasion, we must resolve and dedicate ourselves to safeguard the sanctity of this institution—that will be the most befitting tributes to them and not through customary ritualistic praises. Men make and destroy institutions. All four competent and committed professionals proved this with their actions (orders) and not mere words. They protected all those fell victims to injustice and highhandedness of tax authorities and the same time upheld their orders when passed strictly in accordance with law and based on facts. They proved their mettle by following established canons of justice. The creation of this institution was for easy and quick justice with the following five attributes:
Free from technicalities;
Expeditious disposal; and
Appointment of Members having expert knowledge of tax codes
Sadly, we have lost great personalities that contributed to above objectives with best of their abilities. They will always be remembered for their work, plethora of reported cases serving as source of learning for all those appearing before them and for the new comers to this institution. They establish their worth through their orders for tax professionals and their successors. Not only their contributions have been praiseworthy, rather unmatched—they left an everlasting legacy of truthfulness and justice. History is witness to this fact. People will always remember them as highly dignified persons, who never compromised on principles and dispensed justice without any favour or fear and never indulging in self-praise. They were honest to the core to uphold the image of this great institution through dedication and impeachable integrity. They were considerate but firm, treating both parties in dispute, fairly and justly. While dispensing justice, all others considerations were totally irrelevant for them. More, importantly, they never exhibit any personal grudge or malice—these were alien concepts for them. I have had the privilege and honour of appearing before them in Tribunal, with the exception of Mujeebullah Siddiqui as revered and respected judge of Sindh High Court.
All of them were ardent preachers and defenders of higher moral values and throughout their lives endeavoured to ensure supremacy of rule of law and justice. Humbleness and compassion were personified in their personalities that were both charming and charismatic. Their words reflected wisdom and their actions portrayed inspiration. Their positive attitude towards life, firm hope for a better future, inspired and motivated all those who were around them.
Being chairmen—custodians of Tribunal, the final fact-finding authority— they guarded its independence with boldness and courageously. Now sadly, even rule-making power of this honourable Tribunal for regulating its own affairs, is snatched from it and given to bureaucracy sitting in the Ministry of Law. Our tribute to them will remain incomplete if we, from the platform of All Pakistan Tax Bar do not challenge it under Article 199 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
May Allah Almighty rest their souls in eternal peace, shower special blessings on them, grant highest place in Jannah and give strength to families, friends and all of us (tax professionals) to bear the irreparable loss and vacuum created due to their depature—Aameen.