TAX OMBUDSMAN

Published By The Daily Star on November 24, 2012 (Link Above)

This week your advocate is Barrister Omar Khan Joy of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Head of ‘The Legal Counsel’. His professional interests include commercial law, corporate law, family law, land law, constitutional law, banking law, arbitration and intellectual property laws. Our civil and criminal law experts from reputed law chambers will provide the legal summary advice.

Reader’s query
I would like to know about the newly formed institution of tax ombudsman in Bangladesh and how does he/his office work. How may a citizen of this country benefit from this institution or apply to him/his office? I mean, under what conditions can a person seek remedy from it? Does the ombudsman provide any remedy? I shall be looking forward to your response.
Tutun, Banani

Response
Thank you very much for inviting me to write on the Tax Ombudsman issue. I truly believe that your query will benefit a lot of people.

‘Ombudsman’ is a Scandinavian concept by origin. Scandinavia is reportedly the least corrupted region in the world and hence many of their governance models have been adopted in many parts of the Globe. Ombudsman is one of such widely adopted concepts.

Ombudsman serves as an alternative to the adversarial system for resolving dispute between citizen and government .Tax Ombudsman deals with the dispute arising between the citizen or taxpayers and the tax authority. In Bangladesh, it was established on 12th July, 2005 under the Tax Ombudsman Act, 2005. The reason behind establishing the office of the Tax Ombudsman is to ensure transparency and accountability in the Tax Administration. It provides redress to the taxpayers from harassment from maladministration, abuse of power, negligence, and corruption of the Tax Officials. Tax Ombudsman only deals with those disputes, which are connected with the Tax Authority, National Board of Revenue and not related to any other Governmental authority. It is expected that in due course Ombudsman for other governmental areas will be established.

The Tax Ombudsman is appointed by the President of Bangladesh. His office is in Dhaka. But, any branch can be established in any other place, if the Ombudsman thinks it necessary. Mr. Md. Khairuzzaman Chowdhury is the first Tax Ombudsman of Bangladesh and is still holding the post. Tax Ombudsman enjoys full freedom in performing his duties.

The procedure of filing complaint is not at all complicated. Any aggrieved person can easily lodge a complaint with the Tax Ombudsman without any fee against the maladministration done by the functionaries of the National Board of Revenue administering tax laws. Examples of maladministration include dishonesty, autocracy, biasness, discrimination, recklessness, incompetency, intentional error etc. Complaint has to be lodged in writing and submitted to the office of Ombudsman. The person making the complaint shall have an access to check the progress of his complaint. There is also a facility for the citizen to get the complaint form through the official website of the Tax Ombudsman. The complainant can keep him updated on the actions being taken with regard to the complaint by tracking through the website. But, the Ombudsman will not accept any such complaint which is made by using false name or reaches the Ombudsman from an anonymous (benami) person. The aggrieved person must file the complaint within 6 months from the date of the occurrence of the maladministration by the Tax Authority. Any complaint made after 6 months from the date of the occurrence will not be accepted by the Tax Ombudsman, unless the person can convince the Tax Ombudsman that there were reasonable grounds for such delay.

After receiving the complaint the Ombudsman may initiate to investigate the complaint by serving a notice to the person against whom complaint is submitted and order the person and authority to submit a statement. If after receiving the notice the person or authority does not submit the statement within 30 days then the Ombudsman will have the authority to start investigation immediately. But if the person or authority fails to submit the statement because of any valid ground then the Ombudsman may allow more 30 days for submitting the statement.

The investigations will be made secretly. The Ombudsman has the power to call any person by giving notice for the purpose of investigation and can also compel the person to attend. But, after the investigation, the Ombudsman will not take any decision or provide any direct remedy to the aggrieved person; rather it will provide advice to the National Board of Revenue. The appropriate decision will be taken by the National Board of Revenue. In case an action is taken by the NBR against the Ombudsman’s finding of maladministration, the Ombudsman may refer the matter to the Finance Minister and he may then direct the NBR to take necessary action.

The Ombudsman will inform the aggrieved person if it decides not to go for further investigation. He will also inform the reasons behind such decision to the aggrieved person. If it is proved that any citizen or tax payer suffers any losses or damages due to maladministration by the Tax Authority or officer then the Tax Ombudsman may ask the official to give compensation. But if it proves that the complaint was made just to harass the officer then Tax Ombudsman will order the complainant to pay the compensation to the officer. If the dispute can be solved through any method of alternative dispute resolution then the Tax Ombudsman will try to solve the matter through the alternative way.

If any person is aggrieved with the opinion given by the Tax Ombudsman then he can apply against it to the Finance Minister within 60 days from the date of submission of the opinion to the National Board of Revenue by the Ombudsman.

By filing a valid complaint the citizen can help the Government and Tax Ombudsman with the purpose behind establishing the Tax Ombudsman and Bangladesh. It will also help to stop the maladministration and harassment done by the administrator towards the tax payers and the other citizens. In the year of 2009, 355 complaints were submitted to the Tax Ombudsman. 10 complaints were submitted in the year of 2006, 119 complaints were submitted in the year of 2007 and 241 complaints were submitted in the year of 2008. It shows that the people are gradually becoming aware about Tax Ombudsman.

For detailed query contact omar@legalcounselbd.com.