There is an age-old adage which states that impediments should not be placed in the way of a man receiving what is rightly due to him. Thus, if someone has worked, he should be allowed to receive his earnings and benefits without extraneous considerations.
There is also, however, a responsibility on the part of the government to ensure that persons satisfy their tax obligations and thus, over the years a great many administrative encumbrances have been erected to ensure that this happens.
Today, for example, if you wish to tender for a government contract, you are required to obtain tax liability and national insurance compliances from the Guyana Revenue Authority and the National Insurance Scheme respectively.
A person who does not obtain these statements would not normally be considered for the award of a government contract.
In many respects these policies are understandable. A person who is not up to date in his tax and NIS contributions ought not to benefit from projects funded or guaranteed by taxpayers.
It may be suggested that there should be no such imposition and that tenders should be awarded strictly on technical and financial merit leaving out the demand for tax and NIS compliances.
This argument goes that having one’s tax and NIS contributions in order should not be considerations for public tendering but these things should be left to the GRA and the NIS in the same way as a traffic cop in the United States is not concerned with the immigrant status of someone who may have breached the law, leaving the question of a suspect’s residency to the immigration department.
There is some merit in that argument but the payment of taxes is important for the operations of any government and State and the State has an ethical responsibility in ensuring that tax dodgers or those whose taxes are not in order should not benefit from public funds.
Also, the government and the State have obligations to ensure that they support the collection of taxes.
Thus, the condition that a person’s taxes should be in order before that person can be awarded a Government contract and thus benefit from such an award is from an ethical point of view, meritorious.
There was a time in this country, under the PNC, when if you wanted to pop over to one of the islands of the Caribbean, you needed to obtain a tax clearance to do so. This requirement was in place up to the early nineties, until it was removed by the Desmond Hoyte administration.
It all started under Burnham who was concerned that persons were migrating without settling their tax indebtedness.
In those days droves of Guyanese were leaving for permanent residence overseas and Burnham was concerned that these persons were leaving without paying their full taxes.
As such, a tax certificate was required before permission was granted for you to board the flight out of Guyana.
It was also in those days that the requirement developed that when a public officer was retiring from public service, that office had to obtain a tax compliance certificate before being allowed to receive his or her pension and gratuity.
Aside from the legality of the imposition, there is the question of whether it is morally right for conditions to be imposed before someone obtains what he has earned.
It is one thing to demand that a person obtain a tax compliance certificate before seeking to benefit from the government, through for example, the award of a contract. It is quite another thing for such a demand to be made in respect to a benefit that someone has earned.
It is tantamount to asking a man to show that he has satisfied his tax indebtedness before receiving his salary.
The pension and gratuity of someone is a benefit that has been earned. It is not something that is being applied for.
Therefore, there should be no conditions attached to the payment of these things. On the other hand, the government is on the moral high ground in insisting that those who are tendering for government contracts should first demonstrate that they are not indebted to the tax authorities or the NIS.
However, in making such a demand, the government must ensure that the requirement is part of the law and not just an administrative rule which does not have the force or status of a lawful demand.
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