-self-employed remain biggest evaders of taxes
-Suriname car scam being probed
By Leonard Gildarie
Despite a year geared for elections, Guyana is set to collect a record-breaking amount in taxes and
Head of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Commissioner-General Khurshid Sattaur, on Friday, disclosed that surpassing that $104.4B will remain one of the biggest accomplishments for that semi-autonomous body this year.
“We are on target, like previous years, to achieve revenue collection targets set by Central Government.”
Last year, GRA’s revenue collections topped $100B.
In his Budget speech, earlier this year, Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, had projected Customs and Trade taxes to collect $10B. Internal revenue collections were targeted to increase by 1.9 percent to $44.1B, reflecting improved performance of the self-employed category and PAYE. Value-added and excise taxes were targeted to increase by 3.9% to $50.2B, primarily due to higher collections on imports, and on domestic supplies due to increased domestic trade activity.
According to Sattaur on Friday, the increased collection can be credited, not on new taxes, but rather on the constant upgrades of GRA’s systems which has managed to capture more defaulters and of tax-payers in the net.
While smuggling and businesses colluding with staffers have remained a big problem, several government-funded reforms of the agency and increased training for Customs and other frontline staffers, have paid off.
However, one of the biggest problems remains in the number of self-employed persons and sole-owner businesses which either pay a little or no taxes at all.
According to Sattaur, the self-employed category is among the largest category of tax-payers but contributes less than seven times of what the entire employee population does under the current Pay As You Earn (P.A.Y.E.) system.
This year, the self-employed) are expected to pay in excess of $2.6B. They comprise store-owners and wholesalers of various consumer items, cambio owners, owners of hotels, mechanics, bar owners and Chinese restaurants. It is estimated that almost $15B more could be collected from this category, as much as what is being paid by corporate entities.
While GRA has strengthened its auditing capabilities by hiring more staff, enforcement continues to prove a humbug with business owners hiding a significant amount of the takings and only declaring an insignificant part.
Then there is the problem of businesses colluding with GRA workers. In cases like these, staffers have been known to assess less taxes for businesses, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars.
“We are weeding out these employees when we find them.”
The tax boss also expressed concerns over practices by employers to “pay staffers under the table”.
These are extremely difficult to pick up since both parties are unwilling to talk. There is a negative side to this issue. “The employees think they are benefitting by not paying taxes and taking home more money. But it will affect their NIS benefits and other areas. The country loses out too from the taxes.”
Scams and Corruption
Over the past year, Sattaur revealed, GRA implemented a number of measures to tackle corruption, including increasing the capacity of its in-house investigative arm, the Internal Affairs Department. This department is mandated to investigate alleged corrupt practices among officers within the GRA.
This year alone, several officers have been terminated for one reason or the other.
Currently, GRA is investigating at least three significant fraud cases.
In one of them, several Berbice Customer Officers are being investigated for the disappearance of cigarettes where $20M was assessed to be paid.
According to Sattaur, GRA investigators even visited Suriname to gather evidence. The driver of the container is under probe and GRA is set to name the local business that was involved in the scam to evade the duties and taxes.
The Commissioner-General also disclosed that GRA is investigating a major scam of vehicles of vehicles entering Guyana from Suriname and illegally being registered.
“We can’t talk much about this as it is still an ongoing investigation but we wish to make known that this scam involves linkages with Customs Officers. The scam involves the use of false number plates and is possibly also linked with the License Revenue Office.”
Another case being investigated involves the evasion of taxes on alcoholic beverages entering Guyana from Suriname and disguised as televisions.
“We are aware of the perpetrators and we believe that GRA staff are involved as well.”
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