–Health ministry ‘secretly’ includes branded items in tax exemption list, costs national exchequer billions in losses
–FBR, DRAP, health dept keep on passing the buck
ISLAMABAD: In the aftermath of the medicine scandal concerning the import of drugs from India despite a ban, the Ministry of National Health Services has embroiled itself in another alleged mega scandal after it emerged that tax exemptions were allegedly given to selected companies, causing huge losses to the national exchequer.
Sources privy to the development told Pakistan Today that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on March 20, 2020, issued an SRO [statutory notification] giving tax exemptions on import of 61 items in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
These items included Life Technologies 7500 Real Time PCR with RNasep Instrument verification kit and complete guides documentation and software; Biosafety Cabinets Class II Type A2, EN 12469, Europe NSF/ANSI 49, USA JIS k3800 Japan; AutoClave 50 Liter Capacity; Multi Channel pipette 5-10 ml; Single channel pipette set of four 2,10,200, 1000 ml Eppendorf/glison; Muti channel pipette 20-200 ml; Vaccum fold; Dr Oligo Synthesizer: Refrigerator/freezer -20 CModel MPR-414 F ; Mini Spin; PCR Chambers; PCR Kits (95 tests) for Suspects Diagnosis (Altona) Respective II. QIAMP Viral RNA Mini Kit (250) reactions; VTM (Viral Transport Medium); Vortex Machine 0-3000 RPM 220v, Velp Italy: Refrigerated Centrifuge Machine Temperature Range – 20 to+40 Model Z 326 K~Hermie IEC 10I0; UPS 6 KVA APC smart-UPS RVA 6000 VA 230 V and other items.
Later, the FBR amended the notification on April 16 and converted the branded list into general items.
The items included: “Real Time PCR Life Technologies 7500 Real Time PCR (standard 96 well plate and 0.2ml tubes format, 5 channel; Biosafety Cabinets; Multi Channel pipette 0.5-10 ul; Single channel pipette 2ul,10ul,200ul, 1000 ul; Microcentrifuge (non-refrigerated, Rotor capacity, 12 x 1.5/ 2.0 ml vessels, 2 x PCR strip, Max. speed: 12, 100 x g (13,400rpm)); PCR cabinet (HEPA filter system, UV and while light); Real time PCR kit for the detection of Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2); Viral RNA extraction kit and mahine (automatic extractors); VTM (Viral transport Medium); Refrigerator/freezer (-20 C), Vortex Machine; Refrigerated Centrifuge Machine (Rotor capacity 1.5ml x24, max. Speed 14000 rpm); and (UPS 6 KVA). “
However, no official concerned was willing to admit that they were involved in the amendment of the list which facilitated the tax evasion.
Sources claimed that officials of the Ministry of National Health Services with the assistance of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) prepared the list. However, DRAP contradicted these allegations and told Pakistan Today to approach the health office.
Ministry of National Health Services Secretary In-charge Dr Tanveer Quershi said that the list was finalised prior to his appointment to the post.
“I did not have any idea which was branded or non-branded and the list was prepared at the eleventh hour by the Health DG and DRAP officials,” he said, adding that he was a “non-technical person” and it was the job of the FBR to identify any branded items and highlight the issue, which they failed to do so.
Pakistan Today contacted DG Health Dr Malik Safi but he remained unavailable. An official of the department, however, claimed that the list was forwarded by DRAP. He refused to talk further on the subject.
FBR also has an ambiguous stance on the issue. Its spokesperson Hamid Attique had told reporters that equipment worth Rs7bn was imported in March 20-April 15. But he changed the value to Rs1.8bn when talking to Pakistan Today.
PM’s health aide Dr Zafar Mirza remained unavailable for comment on the issue by the time this report was compiled.